Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Kelly's Review: The Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale

Reviewed by Kelly Spillane

Minnie and her sister Clara, spinsters both, live in a dilapidated country house in the middle of a housing estate, built when their father sold off the family's land. Now in their seventies, their days follow a well-established routine: long gone are the garden parties, the tennis lessons and their suffocatingly strict mother. Gone, too, is any mention of what happened when Minnie was sixteen, and the secret the family buried in the grounds of their estate.

Directly opposite them lives Max, an 11-year-old whose life with his mum has changed beyond recognition since her new boyfriend arrived. Cast aside, he takes solace in Minnie's careful routine, observed through his bedroom window.

Over the course of the summer, both begin to tell their stories: Max through a Dictaphone, Minnie through a diary. As their tales intertwine, ghosts are put to rest and challenges faced, in a story that is as dark as it is uplifting.

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The Comfort of Others is like no book that I have ever read before with a unique way of telling a story. This book tells the tale of two people, an elderly woman in her seventies called Minnie who tells her story through writing entries into her diary, and an eleven year old boy called Max who tells his story by speaking into a dictaphone.  With Minnie having a painful past full of secrets and Max trying to come to terms with the changes that have appeared in his life recently, the two strike up an unlikely friendship when they spot each other through their bedroom windows.  But the friendship that the two have may just help Max to deal with what is going on in his life at present and help Minnie to deal with the secrets of her past.

When I started reading this book I didn't know how I was going to feel about it because it is told in such an unique way, but the further into the book I got the more it pulled me in until I found myself fully immersed in the story and totally unable to put the book down.  The characters are incredibly written with both Minnie and Max being loveable, relatable and authentic.  Their life stories had me laughing one minute and crying the next, but the friendship that they struck up had me smiling for beginning to end.  The stories of both characters are incredibly believable so much so that at times it made for hard reading, especially when things don't go the way that they have planned.  Max's story deals with change and uncertainty which are feelings that most children his age have at some point, but the way that Max's character and his feeling were written blew me away with the amazing way that the author was able to delve into the mind of an eleven year old child and make him so believable and relatable.  Minnie's story is one of secrets and heartbreak, and while Max is trying to come to terms with his present and future, Minnie is trying to make her peace with what has happened to her in the past.  Looking at each others lives through their windows, the two characters end up with most beautiful and unlikely of friendships that all starts when Minnie invites Max for tea at Rosemount, the home she shares with her sister.

This is the first book that I have read by this author but it definitely won't be the last.  I adored everything about this book from start to finish and I loved how the easy prose of the author made the story flow.  Probably what I loved most about this novel is the way that the author shows what it is like to be young in the present day, compared to when Minnie was the same age six decades ago.  It shows the changes that have taken place in society over the years and how children are treated differently now to how they were when the older generation was young.  However, what struck me the most about the novel is the way that it shows how unlikely friendships can be the best kind and how friendships can span generations.  I love the phrase on the cover of the book that says "Sometimes more is heard than is said" as I feel that after reading the book is really sums up what the book is about.

The Comfort of Others is one of the most beautiful books that I have ever read.  With heartbreak and sadness at its core, but with just the right balance of happiness and laughter to make this book so much more than just a tearjerker.  I loved every page and every minute that I spent with the characters of this book and I am so looking forward to discovering more from this author.  The Comfort of Others is touching and sad, with some truly shocking moments thrown in for good measure.  I had no idea that I would love this book so much and I am so glad that I got the opportunity to read it.  This book came into my life at a very difficult and sad time, and it has given me hope and has really taught me the value of friendships and I think that is why this will always be a very special book to me.

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