Some secrets take their time to travel home Gareth Maddox has his own successful Cardiff Bay law firm, a clever and talented wife and four perfectly imperfect children. Then along comes Cassandra Taylor, managing director of a Canadian shirt company wanting to set up a major manufacturing plant in the Welsh valley Gareth hails from. It seems like the kind of work he will excel at and an ideal way to see the valley pull back from joblessness and despair.
Back at the end of the Great War, in the wake of a community splitting strike, Gareth’s Great-Great-Uncle Idris sailed off to Canada in search of his fortune and a new way of life. Behind him Idris left his twin Tommy and Maggie, Tommy’s wife, who shared her childhood and much else besides with both brothers.
Decades later, Maggie’s secret life is revealed – and for Gareth nothing may ever be quite as it was before Perfect Ltd came to Wales.
Thicker Than Water by Bethan Darwin is a book that instantly draws the reader in with the introduction to the hectic life of the Maddox family who live in Cardiff. Rachel and Gareth are corporate lawyers who are still in love and are loving parents to four children. It’s a chaotic and busy existence. But, as in real life, there are underlying, unresolved currents, weak links that inevitably surface. Even after many years.
I don’t give spoilers in my reviews so I’ll just say what I liked about the structure of Thicker Than Water.
I loved this author’s writing style; steadily paced, events linked smoothly; it’s a good storyline. In fact there are two excellent storylines that run parallel with one another, past and present, but I’ll come to that later.
All the characters leap off the page, rounded and many layered, it’s easy to empathise first with one and then with another as we are led through their lives. Bethan Darwin describes the family in an authentic and sometimes humorous way that portrays real life and reveals the complexities of families. As a reader it’s easy to identify with Rachel as she tries to balance home life, a good marriage, her career while still maintaining a relationship with each of her children (all with needs and interests of their own) in different ways. I thought the representation of the teenage daughter, Eloise, trying to forge a life for herself was particularly good, especially of her relationship with her cousin, Grace, Rachel’s niece, struggling to live up to her parents’ expectations. I even (to some extent) understood the struggles of Gareth and the temptations of Cassandra Taylor, managing director of the firm ostensibly willing to set up business in the Welsh valley he grew up in. (no… no spoilers, I won’t go there!)
Both the internal and spoken dialogue flows well and is authentic to each character; the author gives distinctive voices to them all.
There is a good sense of place through the descriptions of the settings both in the homes and of the world the characters move around in.
The contemporary thread of the plotline is a great read.
My problem is with the storyline that juxtaposes the present story. That of Idris a distant relative of Gareth’s who emigrated to Canada some time after the First World War.
Don’t get me wrong; everything I’ve said above about the characters, the dialogue, the setting, the plot works equally well. But, for me, there just wasn’t enough of the story. It is so obvious that the author has done an extensive amount of research; there is a wealth of detail of events and of the era. Wonderful stuff! I just wanted more. In fact, I thought it could be a novel in itself. To say I was drawn to the characters and their lives is an understatement. But that might just be me; I loved the history of it. Excellent depiction of the 1920/30’s. But it all felt a little rushed; told rather than shown.
And I have to say I was somewhat disappointed with the connection between the two plotlines.
However, this is purely subjective, as are all reviews. And this last does not take anything away from the author’s style of writing which I greatly admire or from the novel. It’s a brilliant read and Thicker Than Water is a book I have no hesitation in recommending.
Thicker Than Water is published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press