Together, Again by Milly Johnson: gritty, heartbreaking and razor-sharp exploration of family life – book review –
But with seven years between each sister, and lacking the sibling bonds that might have strengthened their adult relationship, they gather at their mother’s home as virtual strangers to face some bombshell news which could well break up their fractured family forever.
Only an author of Milly Johnson’s talent and pedigree can take her readers from low to high in the twinkling of a couple of pages... and there are plenty of fuzzy feel-goods and deep, dark shadows in this soul-searching tale of three women healing the lingering scars of their blighted childhood.
Together, Again is Barnsley born-and-bred Johnson’s twentieth novel and this gritty, heartbreaking and razor-sharp exploration of family life, and the big and small events that can make or break how we view the world, is one of her most triumphant, compelling and moving books yet.
Sisters Jolene, Marsha and Annis have gathered together for the first time in many years at their beautiful family home, Fox House in South Yorkshire, following the death of their distant and difficult mother Eleanor Vamplew.
The three women seem to be more strangers than sisters, ‘the seven-year gap between each birth gaping like a grand canyon.’ Jolene, the eldest, is a successful romantic novelist who writes about passionate relationships even though her own marriage to the handsome and charming Warren is complicated.
Pondering whether she is crying for the mother she had, ‘or the mother she wished she had but never did,’ Jolene recalls the difficult conversation she shared with her mum at their last meeting and Eleanor’s gift for ‘saying words that acted like a needle pushed under the skin, bang-centre into the heart of a nerve.’
Marsha, the neglected middle child who only ever paid ‘duty visits’ to her mother, has put all of her energy into her work, creating her own successful business and hoping that money will plug the gap in her life left by her unrequited love for the man who broke her young heart.
Fiercely independent, she has always regarded herself and her sisters as ‘dried crumbs that would not bind, however much they were pressed together.’ But as the years have passed, Marsha has started to feel lonely and is frightened by the thought that she now has no life outside her work.
Annis, the youngest and most beautiful sister, is the renegade. She had been her father Julian’s favourite daughter but broke his heart when she left home aged sixteen and never returned. Her mother dismissed her as a ‘rotten apple’ but her sisters were consumed with regret for having had so little time for Annis and treating her as an annoyance.
Annis did not even return home for the death of her father seven years ago... but now she is back. So when the sisters discover that their mother has left everything to Annis in her will, it undermines all they thought they knew.
Can they find the hidden truth of their past, and will saying their final goodbyes to Eleanor bring them together again?
Threaded through with dark secrets and home truths, laughter and tears, frailty and strength, and hope and forgiveness, Johnson’s page-turner is a true celebration of sisterhood... an empowering story of female resilience which seamlessly blends heartfelt emotion with earthy northern comedy, and harsh reality with endearing romance.
With her cast of exquisitely authentic and perfectly created characters, Johnson employs her deep well of wit, warmth and wisdom to bring us an inspirational story in which sister gets to truly know sister as together they dig out the murky corners of their past and unite their fragmented childhood memories into a newly discovered and unbreakable family bond.
There are haunting, hidden secrets to be faced in the sisters’ journey of self-discovery but with their newly found strength, and a big helping of mutual support, the three women learn to accept the past and find forgiveness, courage and love.
Peppered with the author’s down-to-earth, Yorkshire-flavoured humour, and with an emotional temperature that runs at high from first page to last, Together, Again is an unmissable ride in which the human spirit prevails against all the odds, and hope triumphs in the face of heartbreak.
Milly Johnson at her entertaining and thought-provoking best!
(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £16.99)