Belfast Telegraph

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A complex tale of love and betrayal ... and the feelgood factor

American writer Anita Shreve is an international bestseller on the more thoughtful end of popular fiction. Her first six novels did quite well but her seventh, The Pilot's Wife (she is herself a pilot's daughter), was selected by Oprah in 1998 and she has had a huge following ever since, selling millions of books worldwide.

Shreve's latest novel Rescue, her 17th, takes a small-town American boy and plunges him into the maelstrom of fate, choice and the price of living with our decisions.

Peter Webster is a young man on the verge of starting his carefully planned career as a paramedic. His elderly parents are quietly proud of their only child. He answers an emergency call in the middle of the night and finds himself fighting to save the life of the drunken young woman who has crashed her car. Her name is Sheila Arsenault and nobody expects her to survive her injuries.

Something about this woman draws Peter to her, although becoming involved with former patients is not strictly ethical. In the process of helping her to restore some normality to what is obviously a fractured and troubled life, he falls passionately in love. Their brief marriage produces a daughter, Rowan, and Peter struggles to keep his wayward wife on the rails but to no avail. Unable to cope with the pressure of responsibility Sheila disappears. Many years later as Rowan prepares to graduate from high school her behaviour changes for the worse. Peter's previously studious and well-behaved daughter hits the bottle and starts to spiral out of control. He realises that beneath the surface Rowan is tormented by unanswered questions. So begins Peter's journey back deep into his past and the woman who abandoned him and their infant daughter.

This is a story of love, betrayal and ultimately renewal. In her quiet, almost passive way Shreve allows the tale of apparently normal lives to unfold and reveal the complexities beneath. The pace allows for her perceptive characterisation and the simultaneous steady building of drama and tension. This is Shreve (left) doing what she does best.

n Roisin Meaney's latest novel is probably her most complex. Chapter by chapter she weaves in and out of her characters' lives, captivating readers with their stories.

Audrey Matthews offers an evening class in life drawing, which is quite a shock to some in Carraikbawn. She hires a model, recruits six students and the classes get under way.

First to arrive is handsome Zarek, who has just moved to Ireland from Poland. For friends Meg, Anna and Fiona the class is a welcome distraction: Anna's husband has just left her for a younger woman; Fiona has to face up to the reason why she can't tell her husband she's pregnant and Meg rallies around her friends, forgetting what is going on in her own life.

Then there's the mysterious James, looking for a new start for himself and daughter Charlie.

Love is the last thing on his mind until Charlie's best friend asks her to go on a play date. Something changes for him over a hot chocolate in the rain. Then there's Irene, who arrives in with bags of confidence and seems to have everything going for her. A beautiful home, a handsome, successful husband and the perfect daughter. So why does she feel it's not enough?

Audrey, the teacher, has fallen in love... but will the brusque pet-shop owner put her off? One thing is for sure, life-drawing class has begun. And so their estranged lives begin to piece together. This is a feelgood book you won't be able to put down.

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