In 2018 I heard Andy Miller give a ‘Friends of Weymouth Library’ talk about growing up in Weymouth, published as The Naples of England. So interesting were his memories that I at once offered to review the book. At that time he hinted that there were matters in the memoir that deserved a book of their own. This is that book. I see he has moved it from memoir into fiction. However, I understand it still contains the bones of his own family’s story. It also draws on his career as a psychologist, and his passion for rock climbing. It is set in Weymouth, Portsmouth and the area around Ilkley.
The back cover matter tells us: “In 1927, on a beautiful stretch of the Dorset coast, a mother of three walks into the sea and drowns. Fifty-five years later, Sue Roberts hears about the manner of her grandmother’s death for the first time. As she delicately prises further information from her unstable mother, Sue learns that her kind-hearted father has forbidden all discussion of the tragedy. He has never even allowed his mother’s name to be known. But ‘never’ is a word Sue cannot accept.”
Miller’s website tells us he is an award-winning poet, author and psychologist. He grew up on the Dorset coast and has published widely in a range of genres. He has also served as an honorary professor at two British universities. He now lives in Derbyshire. This is his first work of fiction.
The story is fascinating. We perhaps find it difficult to understand what would make a family completely ostracise a member. We are more open to the range of human behaviour. In 1927 suicide was still illegal and, in a world where the vast majority of people lived in poverty, they didn’t have much to lose except their reputations.
The book has three strands: Sue’s search for her grandmother; Sue’s early life, growing into adulthood, relationship with her sister, with her parents – and their relationships with each other; the life of Sue’s grandmother ending with her final day.
The book is set in Ilkley (where Sue lives as a married woman) Portsmouth (where her parents live the later part of their lives) and Weymouth (where they grew up, and where Sue’s sister still lives).
The heart of the book is the secret which we watch Sue unravel. However, just as fascinating is the life of her parents. As the book proceeds we become increasingly aware that they are not the people she thought they were. You may wonder as you read about that whether your own family is quite as you supposed – I know I did. And, despite the importance of these two strands, without the historical sections in Weymouth about Sue’s grandmother’s life there would be no book.
Miller has a very readable style, and a talent for an original image and turn of phrase, as here: “One lost relation searching hopelessly for another in stagnant banks of sea fret.” The pages turn themselves, as one hopes for resolution in both the past and the present.
I will just huff that I have no idea where ‘the clean, white, soaring spire of St Mark’s’ may be found in Weymouth or the surrounding countryside. Or is it somewhere else entirely?
NB: I was working from an electronic ARC so cannot comment on the accuracy of the published text.
This book was published on 6 April 2021. It is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon, or direct from the author, firstname.lastname@example.org.