5 May 2009

Book Review: Second Chances by Martina Reilly

Lizzie Walsh is happy with her boyfriend Tom, and her job as a counsellor at Life, a counselling centre in Dublin, where she lives.

But behind her happy facade lies a deep and painful secret - her sister Megan was murdered as a teenager and Lizzie and her family have never got over it. The murderer, Joe Jones, was sent to prison for life after the crime, but one day Lizzie is horrified to see Joe on her way home.

She makes a decision to follow him and this spirals into an out-of-control obsession with revenge and growing hate. But is it ever going to be enough for Lizzie?

Rating: 5/5

Martina Reilly used to write under the name of Tina Reilly, and her books were light-hearted and funny chick-lit novels, nothing too serious and an easy read. But she has released her last three under this name and they have all been far more serious and with strong subject lines. This one is her grittiest by far. The book covers some emotive subjects; murder, revenge, mental illness, and the effects that this sort of loss has on people, even twenty years on. Despite this, it wasn't a difficult read, just incredibly absorbing and hard to put down.

The book begins with the trial of Joe Jones and his conviction for murder. It then moves forward to the present day where we follow Lizzie who is our main focus throughout the book. I found her a very likeable person who seems really together and quite normal considering the bad things that have happened in her childhood. What I really liked was the way we see just how much Joe Jones and her obsession with revenge changes her, and Reilly writes this so well. She brings out Lizzie's feelings about Joe, and you can sympathise and see why she reacts in the way she does. This is important because Lizzie's actions are at times quite unsettling but because of the way it's written, it's all justified and seems to sit well within the story.

As well as the main plot, the book cleverly has several subplots going on at the same time to keep you interested, but they also serve to show you just how much the Walsh family has been affected by the tragedy. Billy and his girlfriend Aileen are expecting a baby but Billy isn't too pleased with the prospect. His reasons aren't clear but as the book progresses it soon becomes obvious that the loss of his twin sister has affected him more deeply than he wants to admit. Lizzie's parents are also having problems but neither is willing to admit to being wrong and the reasons for their problems. Lizzie's life is laid bare, both at home and at work so no stone is left unturned. But the knock on effect of her actions is intriguing and develops in the course of the story.

Reilly has chosen to tackle a difficult topic here, but she does so with real empathy and compassion towards her characters. It's easy to sympathise with them as you're reading because of what has happened, but it's good to see that they are trying to get on with their lives despite it all. Lizzie's is the hardest journey. Her actions did disturb me but I understood why she was doing what she did, and because of this I wanted everything to work out for her. But what really surprised me was how I felt sorry for Joe despite the fact he was a convicted murderer. It was refreshing to see how his life was after spending a lot of years in prison and how he was adjusting to the outside world again, in terms of jobs, relationships with people and general perception of life. This isn't something I have seen much in books but the way this was done was brilliant, and the blending of Joe and Lizzie together was gripping. You wouldn't expect these characters to be able to be together at all but Reilly tackled it in such a way that it worked, and it worked well.

This book was a fantastic read, and I did struggle to put it down because it was really gripping and fascinating. Reilly creates a realistic and believable story for her readers, and this one doesn't disappoint at all. I loved all of the characters, even, unexpectedly, Joe and I cared about what happened to them which is vital if you're going to enjoy a book. Reilly has tackled the subject carefully, yet doesn't shy away from the realities of murder and its after-effects on the characters which makes it stand out for me. The third person writing enabled the story to flip between characters seamlessly and with ease. It was a joy to read and I couldn't recommend it highly enough. If you like this, you'll definitely enjoy some of Reilly's other books. It's worth noting that this is fiction aimed at women, but it's not 'chick-lit' in the traditional sense, as it's more serious and gritty than the light love stories which typify the genre, and it's all the better for it. Definitely recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Can someone let me know how this ends?
    Bought this second hand but it seems to be one of the faulty copies and it ends with Joe visiting Anto, no resolution on the murder, the mother etc