April 10, 2012

Book Review: The Affair

After Celia Bayley dies, her children and grandchildren have to figure out how to go on living without her comforting presence and peacemaking. Her three adult children--Robert, Sarah and Margaret--all suddenly find themselves facing crises within their marriages. Robert isn't speaking to his daughter, which makes his wife unhappy. Sarah's husband reveals a shocking secret, and Margaret's years of unhappiness with her husband have suddenly come to a head.

Then comes an amazing surprise: Celia's writing, which they'd thought of as a hobby, had made her famous. To the disbelief of her oblivious, unbookish children, reporters appear at the funeral and a would-be biographer shows up at the door asking questions about her. As the biographer starts digging, they discover that the cliché of their parents' fantastically happy marriage might not have been quite true. Even more astonishingly, it turns out that there were secrets in Celia's past that had been hidden from her children for more than 50 years.

The Affair is told in alternating chapters, as Alicia Clifford switches between scenes of the extended Bayley family in present-day England and Celia's childhood in the 1930s and her years as a new wife in the 1940s and 1950s. As the past unfolds, the reader is always just a step ahead of the Bayley family in finding out the secrets of Celia's life and how seemingly insignificant incidents from a lifetime before are affecting them all today. The Affair is a timeless novel about family, love and the question of how well you can ever truly know someone.

I thought The Affair was a trifle predictable, but enjoyable. I especially liked the interactions between Celia's children and grandchildren -- Alicia Clifford does a great job of portraying the complicated (and often funny) relationships in a big family.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Why not?

Do you like family saga novels? 
Can you imagine not knowing your mother was famous?

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness on March 16th. The cover image is an Amazon affiliate link.