Friday, 8 February 2013

Guest Book Review: Emma Burstall - The Darling Girls

Reviewed by Danielle Pullen

Three women in love with the same man meet for the first time at his funeral. Can they separate the truth from the lies – and learn to trust again?

When world famous music conductor Leo Bruck dies suddenly, he leaves behind three grieving women and a mass of unanswered questions.

Did the man who juggled these simultaneous relationships while thrilling audiences around the globe, direct The Darling Girls like an orchestra?

Victoria, his partner of twenty years and mother of two of his children, regards herself as his rightful widow and keeper of his legacy. However, a series of shocking discoveries forces her to re-examine the man she thought she knew and query the very foundation of their relationship.

Maddy, mother of Leo’s daughter Phoebe, has a high-powered job and seems independent and sorted. But events take a sinister turn when Maddy becomes involved with Victoria’s troubled teenage son, and her safe world starts to go awry.

Finally there’s Cat who, at just 24, is Leo’s youngest lover. Coping with a sick mother and battling demons from her childhood, she is finding it increasingly hard to hold it together. Will grief, anger and bitterness blind her to the possibility of ever finding happiness, career fulfilment - and even, perhaps, new love?

The Darling Girls is a moving story of love, loss, and the prevailing power of female friendship. Can these three very different women, whose lives become inextricably bound, break free from the masterful control Leo exerts - even from the grave - once and for all?

OK, so we’ve all heard about love triangles, but what about love squares? That’s the position the three central characters in Emma Burstall’s new book, The Darling Girls, find themselves in. After the death of Leo Bruck, a celebrated conductor, Victoria, Maddy and Cat are all left grieving the man who had made them feel that each of them was ‘his darling girl’.

Victoria, Leo’s ‘wife’ of over twenty years and mother to two of his children, feels she has the upper hand. She was aware that Leo had his other women but longevity and a stable family life held them together. Maddy, Leo’s ‘mistress’ and mother to his young daughter, is independent and driven. She was thrilled by the exciting and glamorous life Leo led, even if his visits were fleeting and he wasn’t always the perfect father. Cat, Leo’s ‘fling’, is young and still finding her feet in the world. She enjoyed Leo’s fatherly presence given her difficult background and lack of an older role model.

But it is only after Leo’s unexpected death that the three women begin to realise that the man in their life was hiding more than his love of other women…

Burstall’s book is mostly set in contemporary London society, from the well-healed avenues of West London to the more working-class streets of East London, but she also takes us on forays to Paris and reminisces about past lives in Austria while trying to unravel the reasons for Leo’s philandering ways.

The story quickly envelops the reader and you are drawn into the lives of the three women as each takes her turn to describe her life and the ramifications of Leo’s death. For me, the most convincing character was Victoria who seems to feel Leo’s death more keenly as she picks up the pieces of her family and financial life. Maddy is a more complex character who, whilst intelligent and career-oriented, proves to have a much softer side. For me, the relationship between Cat and Leo felt unlikely and the conversations between Cat and the other characters felt a little amateurish, though perhaps Burstall intended this to evoke a sense of naivety in this character.

From the opening chapter of this novel I was gripped and wanted to know how the characters
would develop. Burstall paints a clear portrait of each of the women and this is certainly one of her strengths as a writer. Overall, I found this to be an interesting, light read – perfect for a holiday, perhaps – and, whilst I wouldn’t search out either of Burstall’s other two novels, I wouldn’t avoid them either!

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