Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Book Review: 'Behind the Smile' by Mary Grand

Welsh author Mary Grand worked as a nursery teacher in London and later taught Deaf children in Croydon and Hastings, but now writes her books from her home on the Isle of Wight. She has published a collection of short stories, CATCHING THE LIGHT, MAKING CHANGES, her successful novels FREE TO BE TEGAN and HIDDEN CHAPTERS and now BEHIND THE SMILE – a new story of intrigue set on the Isle of Wight.

Mary’s eloquent writing is immediately placed before us in a meaningful moment simply titled ‘March 2016’ - He found her early that morning on Mottistone Down. From a distance she looked dramatic, beautiful even, draped across the smaller Longstone, the mellow, yellow-red morning light softening the image. However, closer to, he saw her face, traces of tears on her cheeks. For the first time, he saw the woman behind the smile.’
And so she sets the title into action wit those few words.

Mary’s opening chapter opens in September 2015, the prequel above begins to take hold: ‘Lowri’s stilettos clicked on the marble floor of Orly airport. She tipped up her chin, pushed her shoulders back, put on her calm, in control smile. Ignoring the luxury shops, she walked quickly, guilt making her petrified she would meet someone she knew. Finally she arrived at the agreed café, and paused. The front of the café opened on to the concourse. Peering inside, she saw a sea of people. Her eyes darted around: where was he? The thin veneer of confidence started to crack and she panicked. Maybe he hadn’t come? Then, breaking though the din, she heard, ‘Lowri, over here.’ Twisting round, she saw him sitting across the café at a small red table by the counter, partially hidden behind the queue. She had been imagining this moment for weeks; pictured him wearing casual clothes but, of course, he’d come from the hospital. He was wearing his neat grey suit which matched the flecks of grey in his hair; he grinned over at her. Blinking away tears of relief, she pushed her way apologetically past the occupied seats and clambered over bags strewn over the floor. He calmly folded his newspaper, stood up, leant forward and took her case. ‘It’s chaos here today,’ he said. Taking her arm, he gently pulled her towards him and kissed her on the cheek. Simon was short like her. He didn’t have to bend down awkwardly and try to aim a kiss at her, like throwing a dart at a board. Instead their faces touched and lingered. ‘You made it.’ He held her close. The relief in his voice surprised Lowri. For once, she realised, he hadn’t been sure of her. Simon usually wore an air of someone who expected life to go his way. ‘It’s been a long six weeks,’ he said, tracing her face with his fingers as if reminding himself of every detail. The lightness of his fingers made her shiver. As she looked deep into his eyes she felt a wave of relief. She had allowed a nightmare scenario to build up in her mind: him being furious when she told him, but it seemed silly now.’

Mary’s ability to spin tales that incorporate unusual characters and circumstances is uncanny. Her prose, while eloquent, is at time difficult to follow – until the reader realizes that Mary has placed pertinent stumbling blocks in her story to propel the tension. The plot is distilled for us – ‘Lowri is pregnant, looking forward to a new life with her lover, Simon. But her plans are shattered. She finds herself alone, her face scarred, her future uncertain. Her estranged husband, Jack, proposes they “settle” for each other, and raise Lowri’s unborn child on the Isle of Wight, in the idyllic village of Elmstone. Lowri is befriended by Carina, the beautiful Italian woman living in Elmstone Manor, and Heather, the popular local café proprietor. However, she soon discovers that no one is the person they appear. What dark secrets is Heather hiding from her family and from the village? Why is Carina desperate for Lowri to fail in her new life and prepared to go to increasingly desperate lengths to destroy her? As she confronts her own insecurities, and faces another devastating loss, will Lowri find the courage to be proud of the person she is hiding behind the smile? Will she find true love amid the confusion and intrigue?’

In the end the tale shares with the reader the importance of hope and the durability of courage in facing the path to mold the future well. Tough story, exceptionally well related. Grady Harp, March 18
This book was free from Kindle Unlimited

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.