Sunday, 2 December 2012

After Mrs Hamilton by Clare Ashton

Clo’s life isn’t particularly happy. She’s an escort for older women. She also works at a patisserie part time to prevent her clandestine prostitution work being discovered. Clo hasn’t had a relationship with a woman in over ten years. She doesn’t feel she deserves one either. Not after the way her last relationship ended. What secret from the past is Clo hiding?

Where does Mrs Hamilton come in? No spoilers here, but life will never be the same for one of the characters after Mrs Hamilton.

Laura is unhappily married to Josh. Josh was her best friend from Oxford University. She married him despite both of them knowing she preferred women. She’s also looking for her birth parents, the parents she’d never met.

When Laura meets Susan, a friend of Clo’s, she’s instantly attracted to her. The feeling is mutual. But, the past has a habit of sneaking up in to the present. What secrets are about to surface?

This is Clare Ashton’s second book. Her first book, Pennance, was a wonderfully well written page turner. I wondered how she was possibly going to top it. I needn’t have been concerned at all. She’s managed it admirably, she’s not only topped it, but as good as Pennance is, this book is even better.

After Mrs Hamilton is an extremely well written, fast paced story of love, family secrets, obsession, devastation, betrayal, cowardice and friendship.

The story begins with Clo, a woman betrayed by her family and made to feel worthless, and her friendship with Laura. Laura is an intelligent woman, a doctor, she’s desperately unhappy in her marriage and longs to find her natural family. As the story progresses and more characters are introduced, it becomes apparent that each character is unaware of parts they are playing in relation to the other characters. As more secrets are revealed, the plot really thickens and begins to simmer away until the story reaches boiling point and the truth is revealed.

The characters are well formed, lovable, real and multidimensional, they all play their parts as if honed to perfection. There is an underlying intrigue throughout the book, which is trying it’s best to get to the forefront. Little bits and pieces surface, but not enough to give us the whole picture, until almost the end. There are many twists and turns in this story and nothing is as it seems. Which makes for an exciting, nail biting read.

The scenic descriptions enabled me to get right into the middle of this group of friends, so much so, that I was fully immersed in the story and actually living it with the characters. Which of course, is part of the enjoyment for me of reading a good book.

There are romances here for the romance lover, one of which is a deliciously delightful May/December romance. A true pleasure to see it unfold slowly and tenderly.

The whole of this story is so cleverly and intricately woven together, it’s like a choreographed performance playing out. Clare Ashton certainly knows how to draw her readers in and keep them there.

At the end of the book when the truth has finally come out and all secrets, betrayals and devastations are revealed and the hurt they’ve caused, I was shocked, stunned in fact. So much pain caused to so many people. But the book is well balanced with a subtle touch of humor and lightened up with some love for good measure.

Quite simply, Clare Ashton has created a masterpiece. She has not shied away from difficult subjects and has written with a sympathy and understanding as is befitting a good author. Her storytelling is superb. I was hard pressed to put this book down once I’d started. In hind sight, I would have started it in the morning and read it in one sitting.

While I was reading this book, I could easily visualize the story on the screen. It would make a good film or a mini TV series. Set in London and the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, with the great characters and brilliant storyline, it would be my idea of a great lesbian film. Lets face it, there aren’t enough good films either.

These characters and this story will stay with me a long while. This is a definite re-read for me.

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