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Review: The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards

Talk about a hard act to follow. American writer Kim Edwards' 2005 debut, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, was a word-of-mouth success that sold nearly a million copies in the UK and Ireland alone and many millions more in the US and elsewhere.

It was translated into 38 languages and topped the New York Times bestseller list, staying on the chart for over two years.

Edwards has come back with a measured, thoughtful novel, The Lake Of Dreams, that will not disappoint fans of her previous work.

Lucy is a 29-year-old hydrologist (someone who works with water), living in Japan with her boyfriend Yoshi. She left her small town, The Lake Of Dreams in upstate New York, for college after her father drowned in a fishing accident. She rarely returned, travelling through Indonesia, Jakarta and Japan and leaving behind her old life and all it reminded her of.

When her mother breaks her wrist in a car accident and things seem to be going south with her own relationship, Lucy decides to pay a long-overdue visit to her family.

When she returns it is to a place that has gone on without her, as if she no longer exists, her power to exert influence on this place the same as that of a ghost -- ineffectual or at most, the stirring of a distant memory.

She runs into her high-school sweetheart, Keegan, who she treated unfairly at the time of her father's death, pushing him away before fleeing herself.

Her old feelings for him rise up again and they are thrown together as she discovers a link between her ancestors and some stained glass windows (he now runs a glass-blowing workshop).

Her family too are moving on without her. Her brother is expecting a baby and is going into business with their uncle Art, who had an unexplained rift with her father, and her mother is falling in love again.

Underneath all of this, Lucy discovers a cache of letters and pamphlets in a hidden cupboard in her mother's house attic which hint at a long-lost family member, a hushed-up secret and perhaps a scandal.

Finding a secret stash of letters is a musty old literary device but Edwards really does try to make up for it.

Lucy's search to discover the truth about her long-lost relative becomes an obsession and takes interesting turns through the early suffragette movement and religion, although these segments can sometimes feel a little didactic in tone.

Lucy's journey of self-discovery is the most engaging part of the story.

When she discovers her brother is having a baby, she surprises herself with her private reaction, one of envy.

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"Avery (her brother's wife) was at least two years younger than I, and yet she already had her own business and a baby on the way. I felt a pang of unexpected envy. Envy, and the feeling I'd had so often in Japan that despite my wild adventures, I'd really been circling around the same still point for years."

While in many ways this book feels like the victim of too-careful research, a caution doubtless inspired by second-book pressure, I fell in love with Lucy in a quiet way and her struggle to face up to herself and her own happiness kept me gripped until the end.

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