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Oct/Nov 2012 Reviews & Interviews

Second Chances

Second Chances
Charity Norman.
Allen & Unwin. 2012. 357 pp.
ISBN 978 1 74237 957 9.

Review by Ann Skea


Finn fell. I don't think, if I used a million words, I could call up the horror. It isn't a matter of words.

Finn is Martha's five-year-old son, and she sees him fall from the balcony of their home. But there is more to this terrible event than Martha is willing to tell us or anyone else when she begins her story.

Martha and her husband Kit have emigrated from England to New Zealand and have settled into their new home in what seems to be an idyllic, rural part of Hawkes Bay. Back in England, Kit's advertizing agency had foundered because of the economic downturn, and he had become depressed and increasingly reliant on alcohol. Martha's salary as an Occupational Therapist was not enough to cover the family's expenses, and the marriage was suffering under all the strain. Change was inevitable. Trawling the Internet one day, Martha discovered that she could easily find work in New Zealand in an area where the family could have a dream house, mortgage free and in their price range. So, Martha accepts a job, and Kit agrees to shun alcohol and concentrate on painting, a passion and a talent that he has never had time to develop. It all seems like the perfect way to start again.

Charity Norman knows from her own experience the emotional turmoil of migration. She writes movingly of the excitement and of the sadness of uprooting yourself from home, family, friends, work, and all that is familiar, to move to a new country at the other end of the world. And she describes Martha's feelings well, as the family begin to explore their new country and learn its ways. She writes bautifully, too, of the New Zealand countryside and its unique culture.

For a time everything seems to go exceptionally well. Finn and his twin brother, Charlie, who are delightful characters, take to New Zealand life immediately. Kit does, too, and he begins to have some success as an artist. Martha settles into her new job and learns how to deal with her new colleagues. Only teenage Sacha, who didn't want to move in the first place, has difficulty adapting to her new life, new school, and new friends. Sacha is not Kit's daughter and Martha has always claimed that after a one-night-stand her real father disappeared and was never heard of again. Kit and Sacha are good friends, but Sacha was just beginning to want to find out more about her birth father when they left England. Eventually, however, Sacha seems to settle in and begin to enjoy New Zealand life.

Finn's fall from the balcony, however, throws Martha into crisis. She has secrets, more than one, which could destroy her family, and as she sits by Finn's bed in intensive care, not knowing if he will survive or, if he does, how damaged he might be, she slowly reveals events of past and present.

This is a compelling book, and Charity Norman creates some very real characters and draws you into their lives so that you become emotionally involved with them. The plight of Finn is a thread which runs through Martha's story and her memories of earlier events, creating constant tension. But there are other, equally serious issues that threaten the family and that must be resolved. All this is balanced by the strong loving bonds that hold this family together, the beauty and freedom of the environment, and the support of neighbors and sense of community that ultimately convince Martha that this is where they belong.

Norman handles the suspense, the anxieties, and the joys fluently, and whilst keeping you absorbed by the family, she deals intelligently with serious social and family issues. Not least, she explores the power of dreams to entice, delight, confuse, and disappoint but, ultimately, to have the power to change the lives of those who are brave enough and resilient enough to follow them.

 

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