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Friday, 27 November 2009
by Rosie Thomas
Rosie Thomas writes prolifically, and I’ve not read one of her stories that didn’t delight me.
Constance is Connie Thorne, a woman in her forties constantly haunted by her origins. She was a foundling, abandoned by her mother at birth, but her efforts to trace her mother are fruitless. She clings to a little earring placed in her swaddling clothes, her most precious possession worn close to her heart.
Constance is beautifully written, a tale of love, betrayal and forgiveness, with Thomas moving the reader seamlessly between the years, the characters and the settings.
Deeply unhappy in her adoptive family, Connie finds a job and leaves home the day after her sixteenth birthday. Always competitive with her deaf sister, Connie falls in love with Bill, her sister Jeanette’s boyfriend. The feeling is mutual, and Bill often comments: ‘I’ve married the wrong sister.’
Their illicit love continues through the years, with Connie and Bill undertaking a lengthy affair until they are discovered. The family is driven apart and Connie, rejected, moves from London to a peaceful hideaway in Bali, conducting her musical career from this idyllic paradise. Thomas’ description of Connie’s house in Bali with its ‘feathery leaves against broad blades against sharp spikes, a lush billow of textured greenery’ had me swooning. Yet into this paradise technology intervenes when Jeanette sends an email telling Connie she is dying. They must face the past, put the bitterness of betrayal behind them.
Constance is beautifully written with a cast of characters who the reader can identify with. Connie, the heroine, is definitely flawed, yet extremely likeable. I admire her easy acceptance of others, such as Roxana, her nephew Noah’s feisty young girlfriend from Uzbekistan. Also, even when committing the ultimate betrayal she seems to be considering others on some level.
Thomas tackles several themes in this novel, displaying her understanding of the human condition. As well as infidelity, the search for identity, love and forgiveness, she also explores the difficult subject of impending death. Instead of being dark and depressing, it is dealt a deft hand, with the cremation scene in Bali and Jeanette’s reaction to it a brilliant, uplifting touch.
With very different locations – London, Surrey, Suffolk, Bali and Uzbekistan, Constance is quite a revelation with Thomas obviously having done her research. Balinese customs are intricately explained and Connie’s dealings with the native Balinese sensitively portrayed, as are those in Uzbekistan. Connie and Roxana’s visit to the Hammam in Uzbekistan where they partake in a bathing ritual similar to those in ancient Rome, is an amazing insight into the culture of women in this politically troubled country caught between ‘Marx and Mohammed.’
Able to be enjoyed on several levels, Constance is a thoroughly entertaining read, but at times you will be moved to tears.
Reviewed by Denise Covey who blogs at L’Aussie