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Constance - Rosie Thomas

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

A PROLIFIC writer with more than 20 titles already under her belt, Rosie Thomas has triumphed again – this time with the succinctly entitled Constance.

And Constance is Connie Thorne, a woman approaching her middle years but still haunted by the knowledge that she was a foundling – abandoned by her mother within days of birth.

Determined to establish her own place in the world, Connie leaves home and her adoptive family the day after her sixteenth birthday – though not before falling in love with Bill, her ‘sister’ Jeanette’s boyfriend. And as it turns out, the feeling is mutual.

It’s an enduring, forbidden love that stands the test of prolonged separation but inevitably drives the family apart and Connie to a peaceful hideaway on Bali. However, when Jeanette contacts Connie to tell her she is dying, the past can no longer be ignored.

Constance is beautifully written and peopled with characters that are totally believable. Connie, for instance, is exactly what a heroine should be – flawed (just as we all are). And she is extremely likeable – always important to the success or otherwise of a novel – even when committing the ultimate betrayal.

But in this all credit must go to Thomas for her sensitive and compassionate handling of an emotive subject. But it doesn’t stop there. As well as infidelity and the question of identity, she also tackles the difficult subject of impending death. Strangely, what could so easily become dark and depressing, is anything but. Instead, it’s quietly moving and more than once, I found myself thinking ‘but there for the grace of God….’

With three very different locations – England, Bali and Uzbekistan (introduced through Roxana, Jeanette’s son’s spirited girlfriend) – Constance is a revelation. For example, Balinese customs are intricately explained as indeed are those of Uzbekistan. I particularly enjoyed Connie and Roxana’s visit to the Hammam, where a bathing ritual similar to that enjoyed by ancient Romans is the exclusive right of women.

Thomas even dares to broach the thorny subject of Uzbekistan’s uneasy political situation. But then this is an author who doesn’t balk at depicting life as it really is, warts and all. Why else would terminal cancer and hereditary deafness be as much a part of her story as love and forgiveness.

But most impressive is Thomas’ instinctive understanding of the human condition – of grief, for example, which does “not have an expiry date or a set term to run”; or the many aspects of love – snatched forbidden moments, for instance, that are so far removed from reality that “every meeting is like drinking champagne on Concorde.”

Whichever way you look at it, Constance is a thoroughly enjoyable read. But beware, there are times when it may well make you feel uncomfortable, while in places, it will almost certainly move you to tears. Thought-provoking and entertaining, it comes highly recommended.

See also Iris and Ruby