On the quayside next to the Endless Beach sits the Summer Seaside Kitchen. It's a haven for tourists and locals alike, who all come to eat the freshest local produce on the island and catch up with the gossip. Flora, who runs the cafe, feels safe and content - unless she thinks too hard about her relationship with Joel, her gorgeous but emotionally (and physically) distant boyfriend.
While Flora is in turmoil about her relationship. her best friend Lorna is pining after the local doctor. Saif came to the island as a refugee, having lost all of his family. But he's about to get some shocking news which will change everything for him.
As cold winter nights shift to long summer days, can Flora find her happy-ever-after with Joel?
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Many thanks to Little Brown for our copy of The Endless Beach to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Without doubt The Endless Beach is the best book Jenny Colgan has ever written. Once I started this brilliant read, I easily finished it within a couple of hours as I became so entranced by the magic of the island of Mure and by the astonishingly excellent storylines and characters. This books packs a real emotional punch and readers would be forgiven that they weren't going to find such emotions and feelings running through what many would term a 'chick-lit' book. No this goes way beyond that, dealing with plot lines that would in the most recent past never have been dared to be mentioned in books in this genre. Not once did Jenny shy away from her subject matter but in fact the male characters really come to prominence in this book and that was so refreshing. To get the male perspective of things, although in this case one or two are hiding things with what they think is good reason, rarely if ever happens in most of the books I read. The women weren't forgotten but I sensed we had come to know both Flora and Lorna previously and although we see how they are feeling as well the men get their chance to step into the spotlight and in doing so provided a really well rounded view of all the characters and the ups and downs they are experiencing on the tiny island of Mure in Scotland.
The Endless Beach can easily be read as a standalone as Jenny has written an authors note bringing readers up to date with the characters. We first met Lorna and Saif in the Quick Reads novella A Very Distant Shore and then last year we made our acquaintance with Flora and Joel in The Summer Seaside Kitchen. But I think if you read this on its own although you would love it as much as I did I feel you would be missing out on what makes this series so compulsive and you would want to fully understand why said characters act the way do. So do indulge yourself and read all three books preferably one after the other without any interruptions.
As I was already familiar with the characters I felt I wasn't looking out for hints as to their previous stories and I could just launch straight into the story and see what was going on now. Admittedly I was reading along and at first I wasn't finding Jenny's writing as gripping as I usually do, there was nothing wrong with the story per se it's just that compulsive urge to keep turning the pages wasn't there. At this stage I was getting slightly worried as this has never happened to me when reading a book by this author before. Then all of a sudden everything started happening and I couldn't get enough. There was no way I was going to bed until I had finished this captivating book which provided so much more than your usual run of the mill boy meets girl story. It was great to discover what happens next to the characters after we have left them behind in the previous books so the reader is not left wondering 'is it all plain sailing in a bed of roses or are you meant to work at things to keep the romance alive?' 'What happens when obstacles are sent to try and test your relationship to it's very limits?' In this case Flora and Joel will certainly find out if their romance can go the distance through tough and turbulent times.
The setting for The Endless Beach was just perfect, the wild and rugged island of Mure which I had fallen in love with when reading Flora's story. All the characters I had come to know were once again present and I am glad there wasn't that many new characters bar maybe Mark and Marsha introduced. This allowed us to get to know the ins and outs of the small rural community even more, Island living is all about community and sharing. Gossip is the lifeblood of so many residents and where better to indulge in the latest goings on than in Flora's seaside café which is going through its own ups and downs businesswise. Not partly due to the fact Flora is that bit too generous especially when it comes to the boys who visit thanks to Charlie and Jan's outward bound charity. Flora has such a good heart and I was pleased to see her romance with Joel was in the beginning very much on an even keel. You could see the passion, love and deep appreciation they had for each other. Flora had battled for her man and won and she wasn't going to let him go that easily even if his city colleagues wonder what he is doing with her and the islanders question whether Joel is really suited to small island life. Joel is a lawyer and a very busy one at that. Colton, a billionaire who hopes to open The Rock hotel, has employed him to do some work as a matter of great urgency. This in turn takes Joel away from the island and there in lies the problem for the majority of the novel.
Flora feels Joel slipping away from her, the longer he is away from the island working. Initially I thought woah hold on Flora you are totally over acting. if a man has to go away to work let him be. If he is busy of course he can't answer every time you ring. I thought she was reading far too much into things and should just enjoy the relationship and hang on until Joel could return. Colton seemed to have some sort of hold over Joel and I was worried that something nasty was afoot. Things seemed to spiral out of control fairly rapidly and maybe Flora had been intuitive enough to see her worries at such a distance may have been justified. I wanted everything to be OK for the pair, for them just to enjoy being together, but as is true to life things have to be worked at and some times distance and time may help to put things right. But still at the back of my mind I wanted to know the underlying things going on. Surely behind all this stress and worry was a very valid reason for Joel remaining so shut off and aloof, for that was what he was for most of the time. When the reasons become clear I understood Joel so much more. It was lovely too to see things between Colton and Fintan, Flora's brother, stepping up a gear and also the author acknowledged the fact that in such a small community where narrow minded views could abound especially in a traditional family that maybe people were starting to became more open and understanding.
The other male getting more of a storyline was Saif, the Syrian doctor not long on the island. Oh how I felt for Saif, his feelings of utter desolation and hopelessness. He feels like a fish out of water in this alien community. Yes he goes through the motions of doing his job caring for the sick and for those who claim to have an illness but just really need a chat. He may be present in body on the island but his mind is firmly rooted with his wife and two children whom he left behind in Syria several years ago. He has heard nothing from them and as each day passes he never gives up hope that they will all be reunited. Again the author was highlighting a modern day crisis which all too often tends to be brushed under the carpet and never gets explored in books. Saif is living a daily hell full of nightmares and although early morning walks on the endless beach and bumping into Lorna every now and again soothe his soul momentarily, the thoughts and horrors soon come rushing back into his heart and mind. Saif keeps himself distant and separate from the islanders bar treating them when necessary as he continues to wait on news. But all the islanders want to do is help to show their community spirit is alive and well and sincere not fake or false. Will Saif see a change in fortune or are things going to get much more challenging before any hope is in sight? I couldn't begin to understand what Saif was experiencing but the author certainly did a remarkable job of conveying what turmoil he was going though on a daily basis. I hoped Saif would eventually find some comfort.
The Endless Beach provides comfort and escape for the reader. It felt like returning to old familiar friends and for several hours the real world remained at bay whilst I enjoyed everything the island of Mure and its residents were offering me. This was certainly an emotional roller coaster which offered numerous laugh out loud moments ( Agot springs to mind – I think she now rivals Neil the puffin for my affections) but at the same time a deeper more hidden depth of feelings were explored mainly from the men's side and for this I applaud Jenny Colgan. There were two crucial points where I exclaimed oh no out loud because I couldn't believe what I was reading. I was saddened and disheartened and then several pages later hopeful. The islanders and Flora, Joel, Saif, Lorna and co are resilient but times are testing them. The way the book ended I felt left room for another story and I do hope Jenny has more in the pipeline. I loved this book and am gutted it had to end if only it could have been as endless just like the beach in the title.
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