As the 20th century draws to a close, the sleepy seaside town of Kingshaven suddenly makes the front page of the world news when a bomb, which has lain hidden since the war, blows up. As the effects of the explosion ripple outwards, the inhabitants of the town find that the bomb has shifted more than just sand; old memories and secrets, long buried, are inexorably coming to light. As the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and finally the Millennium, approach the inhabitants of Kingshaven try to unravel their past as they search for happiness in their future.
In many ways, this is an outstandingly good novel. Parker has an elegant and delicate turn of phrase, which makes the book stand out from so many of the novels currently on the shelves. The beautifully written descriptive paragraphs are a real joy to read and the character interaction is excellent. Her characters are wholly believable, and highly sympathetic – where the author wants them to be!
The problem with this book is that, despite the copy on the back cover, Parker doesn’t really seem to have chosen a heroine, a central character, or even a handful of central characters. The book tries to undertake the very difficult task of telling the interwoven stories of a large number of individuals and, frankly, it fails. This is always a difficult style of writing, and I can think of very few books in which it has been successfully achieved without being muddling. Putting a list of the principal characters at the start of the novel is absolutely no help at all – continuously having to flick back and see who’s being referred to breaks the thread of the story for the reader and pricks the bubble of the wonderful and absorbing world that Parker has created. Furthermore, there are far too many semi-characters, who appear or are discussed for a scene or two, hand then never seen again. They could all have been dispensed with.
The backgrounds and personalities of each character are fully and excellently described, creating people you really feel you know but sadly, because this has to be done with so many characters, the overall effect is that the book drags rather, and the plot doesn’t really progress as fast as it could. There are also just too many plot twists and surprises for one average-length novel – dispensing with a few of them would have made the book a less heavy, and much more enjoyable, read. Despite the plot flaws this is a well-written book, albeit one that would have worked twice as well with half the characters.