The past and present merge in these two women, Flo and Millie. I still find Flo’s life more interesting. Her sister Sally has a terrible blow when her youngest child dies. It is at the funeral that Flo sees her sister Martha for the first time in years. She also sees her daughter Kate, who is a lovely girl. Sally wants Flo to make up with Martha, and Flo can’t bring herself to forgive her sister for ruining her life, but she wants to meet her niece. Kate goes to see her first at her flat and then at the launderette. It is through Flo that Kate reconnects with Hugh, who she knew from her old school. Flo knows that Norman Cameron wants to marry her and Martha is all for it, but Kate is not so eager. She hears that Kate wants to be a registered nurse, and then she falls for Hugh. Flo keeps their secret, but then Nancy and Martha meddle, making a fuss. The day on which Sally’s daughter gets married, Flo learns that Kate marries Norman Cameron.
After that, Flo learns that Hugh is dating a girl, Carmel, who is rumoured to be of low morals. Hugh ends up marrying her as he gets her pregnant, but it is clear Hugh is not happy. The boy Carmel has is called Tom, and Flo is there for Hugh and Tom, and Carmel thinks the world of Flo. Yet, Hugh has lost his zeal and has little interest in his wife. That results in Carmel Hugh and Tom for a man who she met while clubbing. Hugh and Tom move with Nancy, but Tom keeps coming to see Flo. Hugh dies young, and from then on Flo watches Tom hanging out with the wrong gang, and she suspects that the things she brings her are stolen goods, and then years later when she opens her own club, she knows that the place is not well reputed, but there is nothing she can do.
I like how Flo thinks of her life, compartmentalised, keeping secrets as in different boxes. Only Nancy and Nancy know about her son; nobody knows about the officers she bedded during the war or Mr Fritz and their weekends. It is curious that Bel, who claims to be her best friend and to know everything about her, knows so little. She has no idea that Bel had a son and was forced to give him up; she doesn’t know she had lovers during the war or had a relationship with her boss. Curiously, Bel also has a secret; she had an affair with Tommy O’Magan, but she never told her friend because she didn’t want to make her more anxious than she was when they met. I imagine that Bel would be hurt to know how little she knew about her friend.
As for Mr Fritz, his son turn up one day when he is old. Flo thinks they are after their inheritance as Mr Fritz is quite well off. They take him to Ireland, and that is the last she hears from him even if he promised to write to her. Soon the house they shared is turned into bedsits, and Flo is worried that the Fritz children will kick her out of the basement apartment. Bel takes her on holiday to take her mind of the worries, and when they return, she gets a letter. Mr Fritz has died, which she takes the hard way. The letter comes from a solicitor who tells her that the man has bequeathed her the lease of the flat and the launderette which she runs. The man’s children are not happy, but the solicitor tells her that they won’t contest the will as the man had it made up ten years ago.
Over the years Flo sees and hears that Kate’s marriage is far from being a happy one. She is told that Norman doesn’t let her go on her own, and she also learns that he beats her and the children, which is something that she regrets, but she can’t do much about it.
The chapter in which Flo’s death is told is so beautiful and at the same time so sad. Flo is old and getting confused, so one morning she doesn’t know where she is when she wakes up in the flat she has lived for decades. She rushes to the house where she lived with her parents, but the place is gone, and a man comes to the door, and realising that the elderly woman is confused, her offers to make her a cup of tea and take her home, but Flo is gone. She has the idea that Tommy is waited for her, so she goes to the Mystery, the park where they used to meet, and in her confusion she sees him, handsome and waving at her. She is smiling, waving back, and it is then that the lorry hits her and she dies. A young man finds her body, and he thinks that the smile on the woman’s face couldn’t have been brighter. That was really beautiful. Flo died a happy woman, but it is sad that she gave her whole heart to someone who didn’t deserve her and her loyalty. I think she had a better life than Martha, who, even though she got what she wanted a husband, she was never able to enjoy the life she has had.
In present time Millie makes a discovery in the flat. She wants to bring her mother there, and tell her. Yet, that day is when her sister has her stall selling her decorated bottles and all the family were there, except their father. Millie offers to drive her mother to Flo’s flat, but she refuses, reasoning that her father wants her back for her dinner. So Millie tells her she will pick her up later, and when she goes there, she discovers that her father has beaten up her mother, just because she has been away for four hours and his food had been ruined. Millie is furious, and then she tells her that Aunt Flo has left her mother the flat and all the money on her account, which is a little fortune as Flo had sold the launderette to a building company. Now she can leave her husband because she has a place where to go, which is what she will do. Millie leaves that day reluctantly, but before going, she stands up to her father, threatening to kill her if he ever lays a finger on her mother again. Then her father says something strange about everything being Millie’s fault.
Her words made me think that maybe Kate was pregnant with Hugh’s baby, and that is why Norman has been so harsh to them all his life. My suspicions are confirmed when Martha visits Millie, and when Millie tells her that she knows about Flo and the son Martha stole from her to give Nancy, the old woman gets upset. When Millie explains that she has been seeing Tom O’Magan, Martha has her own revelation. Millie is not Norman’s daughter, but Hugh O’Magan’s, and Martha and Nancy plotted to tell Kate that when Hugh had learnt about the pregnancy, he had done a bunk, so that is why she married Norman. I think both Nancy and Martha are so horrible, and I can excuse Nancy because after all Flo was nothing to her. Yet, Martha is really hideous. Not only did she ruin her sister’s life, but her own daughter, making her marry an abusive man. And her reasons were the same, keeping up appearances. Martha was worried that if Kate and Hugh were to marry, they would have to be told they were cousins as they would have to ask for a dispensation, which is something she wasn’t ready to put up with even if it meant to make her daughter unhappy. What Millie finds even more shocking is that Martha doesn’t show any kind of regret for what she did. I have to say that when she was young, I felt sorry for her at times as she was clearly the ugly duck of the family. Yet, all the things she did to her sister and daughter are inexcusable, and I really dislike her.
The shocking thing now is that Millie and Tom O’Magan are half-siblings and they have been sleeping together. Maybe there is another twist, and Tom actually was not Hugh’s son. After all, his mother had a reputation for having loose morals. In any case, I have to say that despite the passion that Millie and Tom have clearly shared, I have never been crazy about Tom, and Millie herself has always thought that theirs was a story that would end eventually, as Tom won’t leave his wife and family, and she doesn’t want him to either. Yet, I imagine that what Millie has learnt won’t leave her indifferent. Will she tell Tom? Maybe not because I have the feeling she would feel she would be giving away a secret that wasn’t hers. In any case, I am not sad that Tom and Millie can’t be a couple because I never warmed up to him. I wonder if she will end up with James, but I don’t think so. He has now become a good friend, but I don’t think she loves him, so I think she is better off alone.