A heart-warming tale of love and loss
Popular fiction: Orange Blossom Days, Patricia Scanlan, Simon & Schuster, hdbk, 592 pages, €19.60
Patricia Scanlan has been writing novels for so long that readers may not remember what a trailblazer she was when she burst on to the scene in 1991. At the time, Molly Keane and Maeve Binchy were the stalwarts, creating nostalgic stories in rural settings but nobody was writing about contemporary, urban Dublin. Scanlan caused quite a stir with her City Girl novels and Apartment 3B, and she opened up a new genre for a host of Irish women writers who came after her.
Mostly set in Spain, her latest novel addresses love and loss, with an underlying theme of women empowering themselves. It is April 2006 and the Spanish costas are buzzing as the coastline fills up with new holiday homes. Into this general air of optimism come the new owners of Joya de Andalucia apartments. It is a dream come true for Irish couple Anna and Austen, who are overjoyed with their new penthouse. They foresee long, lazy days in the sun for their early retirement. However, their plans are soon scuppered when the recession hits and they find themselves helping out their selfish adult children. Anna can't find the time to fly south as she is caught up minding grandchildren, which puts a strain on their marriage and their health.
Jutta, a German interior designer, has dreams of owning one of these apartments with Felipe, her Spanish husband. Texan mother of two teenagers, Sally-Ann is reeling from the betrayal of her wealthy husband Cal. He is buying up properties along the coast in conjunction with Felipe, who is overstretching himself financially. Eduardo is a supercilious Madrileño who bullies his mouse of a wife. He wants to become president of the apartment complex's management committee and own a penthouse.
As the years pass and the recession sets in, many see their dreams fade and have to sell up. But the women who remain gain strength from each other. Eduardo's wife finally rebels and starts to live a little, and when the unthinkable happens, Sally-Ann and Anna help each other to survive. Meanwhile, both Eduardo and Jutta are within reach of their goals but the tension mounts with a series of brilliant Machiavellian twists which brings the whole story to a very satisfying conclusion.
Nowadays, Scanlan is a bestselling author worldwide. Popular in the UK, the USA, Australia and even India, she has been widely translated. No doubt her huge readership will love Orange Blossom Days - a particularly poignant one for Scanlan. Her beloved Dad passed away just as she finished the book. Like all her previous novels, this one is a heart-warming page-turner, proving that Scanlan, after all these years, is still at the top of her game.