Margaret Forster, in this engaging, intriguing novel, about a young woman and two grandmothers, uncovers the shocking truths that family history reveals. The curiously named Isamay, a would-be academic, is trying to write a coherent thesis about grandmothers in history - from Sarah Bernhardt and George Sand to the matriarchal Queen Victoria and other influential grannies - while constantly ambushed by the secrets her own family has been keeping. An only child, she is named after her grandmothers, Isa and May, who were there at her birth and who have formed and influenced her in very different ways. Jealous of each other, they both want to be first in their granddaughter's affections. Isa has an edge, in that young Isamay looks like her, but Isa's reserved and elegant exterior hides startling surprises that could undermine her granddaughter's certainties. May, on the other hand, is plump, indomitable and opinionated, and it's from her that Isamay inherits her stubborn determination. Isamay, almost thirty, has never wanted children, but suddenly considers changing her mind. Her live-in lover, Ian (always mysterious about his own family history) is sure that he does not want a child. Engrossing, set in the present but with hooks into the past, this is an unusual story about grandmothers and their potentially powerful role in family life, about nature vs nurture, bloodlines and bridges across generations.
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