Saturday 25 November 2017

Judy Finnigan's Cornwall has echoes of du Maurier

Anne Cunningham on the second novel from one half of the Richard and Judy book club

Looe in Cornwall, close to Judy Finnigan's adopted home
Looe in Cornwall, close to Judy Finnigan's adopted home
Author Daphne du Maurier, who made her home in Cornwall
TV presenter turned author Judy Finnigan with husband Richard Madeley.
I Do Not Sleep by Judy Finnegan

Anne Cunningham

Judy Finnigan is one half of the famous Richard and Judy, who hosted ITV's morning show for 13 years, before moving to Channel 4 for another seven years. Their magazine show mix of chat and guests was one of the UK's most popular TV programmes. The weekly Book Club spot was a firm favourite, and helped to launch many new authors, including Kate Mosse.

In January 2004, Bob Geldof was their Book Club guest and one of the chosen books for that week was our own Joe O'Connor's Star of the Sea. Geldof described the book - pretty accurately - as a "masterpiece".

The following week, Star of the Sea moved from number 300-odd straight to number 1 in the UK's bestseller list. Amazon sold out of copies that very night, and Joe O'Connor was instantly catapulted from being highly respected to hugely famous.

As a couple, although their TV days are behind them, Judy Finnegan and Richard Madeley still host an online book club in conjunction with WH Smith, and although they don't yield the huge influence they once did, it's still an immensely popular website. Both of them have turned to writing novels in their post-TV years, and this novel is Finnigan's second.

I Do Not Sleep opens with Molly Gabriel still grieving for her son Joey, lost five years before in a boating accident off the coast of Cornwall. His body has never been recovered, and in attempting to bring some sort of finality to her pain, Molly agrees to holiday again in Cornwall with her family. Her husband thinks the experience will help, but Molly's unconvinced.

Her baby grandchild temporarily lifts her mood, but she inevitably must relive the horror of the day she lost her son. Far from healing her, this holiday begins to make her worse. She hears Joey's voice calling in a dream, and has a nasty supernatural experience in the famous Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor. Feeling a fraud for playing happy families, Molly decides to rent a cottage by herself nearby; she needs time alone. And there she resolves to find her son's body.

What ensues involves some local Cornish characters - a pub landlady, a guesthouse owner and an old Cornish Charmer ( a kind of faith healer) called Len. It also involves a secret meeting with Joey's best friend, who didn't sail with him on the day he disappeared, and who has remained incomprehensibly tacit about what happened on the day of Joey's disappearance.

Borrowing its title from Mary Elizabeth Frye's famous poem Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep, Finnigan's book is as much an homage to her adopted home of Cornwall as it is a tale of the imponderable - a mother's grief for her lost son. Writing lovingly of the Cornish coastline where she now lives, she doffs her cap at Daphne du Maurier, who famously set her novel Jamaica Inn, and three others, in Cornwall.

It's a story of distress and yearning, of ghosts and mystery and sea mists, and even if this book is does not quite match du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel or Mosse's haunted and bestselling Carcassone trilogy, it's still a cracking read. I believe such a venture is called "standing on the shoulders of giants".

If that's the case, Ms Finnigan certainly maintains her poise.

FICTION

I Do Not Sleep, Judy Finnigan, Sphere, tpbk, 300pp, €16.99

Available with free P&P on kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

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