The book has very sad moments as it approaches its end.
One of the saddest moments was when Vera died. I liked this character so much; all through the book she showed nothing but kindness and generosity. The woman dies of a heart attack, happy after having had all her children, daughters- and son-in-law, and dozens of grandchildren for Christmas. I really loved Vera, and how she welcomed Laura and Queenie with open arms as part of her family even if she has too many children already. At least, Vera dies happy, knowing that Mary, the apple of her eye, is finally settled in her strange marriage. At first, both Mary and Duncan are miserable, and they agree that as soon as their baby is born, he will leave for Scotland, give her an allowance, and they could even divorce. This conversation enables them to become friends as the tension is gone. However, when little Flora is born, Duncan is in love with his daughter, something he didn’t expect, so she stays, and when Mary asks her if he would like to have a go in their marriage, they stay together, and a few months after Flora’s birth, she is pregnant again.
The second sad event features Laura. The lovely woman who we got to know in 1939 changes. It seems that what happened between Duncan and Hester affected her more than she was ready to let on. She is snappy and moody, so her husband and Gus use the excuse of using the dinghy they have bought to get out of her hair. Then Laura realises she is pregnant, and at first, she wants an abortion as she thinks she can’t leave her job, which is the only thing she has left – Hester is in America, and her husband and her son are never home -. Queenie is not very sympathetic as she can’t condone a woman having an abortion when she has been unable to be a mother herself, and when Roddy learns her intentions, he is also furious.
Laura doesn’t have a termination in the end, but things go from bad to worse. The baby is stillborn, and this means her undoing. She is terribly depressed, weeping continuously, threatening to kill herself, and even having non-responding periods. Hester has to leave America, and even though she intends to return, that is not possible as her mother doesn’t get better. Laura has to be looked after like a child, and even Queenie’s mother helps. It is a few years later that when Laura is on her own, she slashes her wrists and dies. I thought that event was so tragic. Laura was so lovely when we first met her, and she got from bad to worse. I think one of the things that mostly contributed to her end was what happened during the war when Roddy left her for another woman. I think she never got over that even if she and Roddy got back together and stayed married for decades. When Hester had a similar experience, I imagine all that stirred all those feelings she had buried so long ago, and when she lost her baby, she was already depressed. The problem is that no one noticed before, so she couldn’t be helped. That was so sad.
Another sad event is when Theo dies. His love story with Queenie is the big one in the novel despite the peculiarity of the relationship. I liked Theo, and he and Queenie were good together. It was a pity that his family was the shadow that spoilt their friendship. It is thanks to Theo that Queenie helps her mother. Actually, it is Theo, who helps her. He gives her a new life, and Agnes really starts from scratch. It is this kindness that she thinks comes from Queenie makes her admit what a terrible mother she was when Queenie was just a little girl. She feels ashamed and terribly guilty. Queenie doesn’t want to have a relationship with her mother, but she eventually sees her, and we see that at the end of the novel that Queenie has seen the change in her mother and has grown to love her. I didn’t like Agnes at all, and like she herself says, she didn’t deserve what she got in the end, but Theo gave Queenie a lesson that even the worst people can be redeemed. That was nice of him.
When Theo dies, Queenie gets to talk to one of his daughter, Stephanie. The woman tells Queenie that she couldn’t have a relationship with Theo because her mother is terrible and she had too strong a hold on her. What the woman reveals and has a vital effect on Queenie is that her mother confessed to her that Theo was not their father, but his cousin Peter. Queenie is shocked, but now she wonders if maybe there was a problem with Theo and that is why she never got pregnant. So she goes to see a gynaecologist who tells her that there is nothing wrong, but now Queenie is forty-seven, and even though the doctor thinks she is too old, it doesn’t mean she can’t have a child, as it happened to other women. Actually, Vera had Mary when she was in her late forties. Queenie is determined to have a child, so a couple of weeks after Theo’s death, she approaches Roddy and asks him. At first, Roddy is shocked and outraged, but eventually he comes round. They become lovers, but there is no baby after months of being together.
Things at Freddy’s are not going well. Its style is old-fashioned, and even though Queenie tries her best to modernise it and try other ways to make it profitable, she finally has to admit it is time to call it a day. That was another sad moment. By that time Queenie and Roddy have gone public, but his daughter Hester and Mary already knew as Queenie and he treated each other very cold all of a sudden, so Mary guessed what was wrong. They are to marry after Freddy’s close its doors. However, something happens between Queenie and Roddy the day Hester is rushed to the hospital when at the end of her second pregnancy she starts bleeding. Hester had married a aspiring writer, who is quite modern. Queenie and Roddy stay with their first child while Hester is having a c-section for their second child. Roddy discovers a book she had given Laura where he used to leave him notes of love. This is the way they fell in love in the first place when they were still in their respective schools. They left each other notes in the book in a bookshop they both visited. When now Roddy sees one of the notes, he comes undone, telling Queenie that it is his fault Laura killed herself as the night before, tired of her moods, he snapped at her and tell her to go ahead and kill herself. Roddy keeps saying that she doesn’t deserve to be happy or enjoy a new life while lovely Laura is dead. It is after that night that they break up.
Then the last part of the book is at Freddy’s last open day. Prices have been reduced, so the shop is full of people. It is a sad moment as Queenie goes through the different departments and memories of better times haunt her. Then one of the employees made her see something she hadn’t realised. She is pregnant, and it seems that everybody has noticed but her. She is in a trance, but she is already making plans to look after this baby growing inside her. When Freddy’s closes its doors, she and some of her colleagues notice a burning smell, and when they go and check, they realise that the ground floor is in flames. Queenie remembers seeing someone dropping a pipe on the floor and maybe that is what has caused the fire. In any case, soon the building is blazing and the fire engines came charging down the street. Queenie and her friends sadly see the end of a wonderful life become history, and it is a poignant moment when Queenie lifts her eyes and see a lonely figure where her flat used to be. Was that Theo’s ghost she saw?
The end of the book is happier. When she goes to the hotel where she was to stay, Roddy is waiting for her, worried as Hester called her when she heard about Freddy’s burning down. Roddy asks her for forgiveness and begs her to take him back. Queenie’s only condition is she won’t share her with another woman, even a ghost, and Roddy promises that’s done. There’s just one thing Roddy needs to be told, and that is when the book ends.
I really loved the novel and all the characters. The friendship between Laura, Vera, and Queenie was delightful. I loved these three women, and even though Queenie is the main character here, I can’t say I loved her better than Laura and Vera. I also enjoyed the relationship between Mary and Hester, even though their relationship had so many ups and downs. Mary didn’t treat her friend right, but in the end their friendship was stronger than their resentments. What brought them together is when they learnt that Carl had died, so that meant they had killed him. I liked when the two friends and Queenie return to the Welsh town where they stayed during the war, and that did them a world of good. Queenie realises that the last memory of the place was so terrible that they had suppressed all the good things they had enjoyed there. So the visit to the place after so many years was what the three of them needed. I liked that part as well.
A great book! I’m going to miss all these lovely characters now.