Title: The Good Sister
Author: Maggie Christensen
Published: November 23rd 2017
Publisher: Cala Publishing
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
Two Isobels. A lifetime of regret. A love that spans the years
In 1938, as the world hurtled towards war, twenty-year-old Isobel MacDonald fell madly in love. But fate and her own actions conspired to deny her the happiness she yearned for. Many years later, plagued with regrets and with a shrill voice from the past ringing in her ears, she documents the events that shaped her life.
In 2015, sixty-five-year-old Bel Davison returns from Australia to her native Scotland to visit her terminally ill aunt. Reading Isobel’s memoir, she is beset with memories of her own childhood and overcome with guilt. When she meets her aunt’s solicitor, events seem to spiral out of control and, almost against her will, she finds herself drawn to this enigmatic Scotsman.
What is it that links these two women across the generations? Can the past influence the future?
The Good Sister by Maggie Christensen is the author’s first foray into the world of historical fiction. Christensen does this genre justice with her solid contribution. The Good Sister is a beautiful Scottish based wartime saga that fuses the past with the present, through two unforgettable women, who are both named Isobel.
In the days leading up to World War II, Isobel MacDonald is busy falling in love with her very own Clark Gable lookalike, Bob Smith. When the war looms over Isobel’s home in Scotland, it derails her plans for the future. Missed opportunities, regrets and a huge misunderstanding defines Isobel’s life. It is a mistake that determines Isobel’s unfulfilled pathway to love and marriage. Isobel’s niece, also named Isobel, or Bel as she prefers to be addressed, was born in Scotland. Bel spent her childhood, as well as formative years being raised by her mother and aunt Isobel, following the death of her father in a tragic accident. Bel has since left her native home, forging a new life for herself in Sydney. When her dear aunt takes a turn for the worst health wise, she calls on her only surviving relative, Bel, to help her settle her affairs. At the same time, old aunt Isobel has an ulterior motive to inviting her niece to return home to Scotland. Isobel wants to put old memories to rest, while securing her niece’s happiness, with the help of her solicitor. The Good Sister draws two generations together, through an unforgettable series of events that happened decades ago.
The Good Sister marks the third book I have read from Australian fiction novelist Maggie Christensen. I really enjoyed Maggie’s previous two novels, Madeline House and Champagne for Breakfast, both were fantastic mature based women’s fiction novels. After devouring The Good Sister in a sitting, I can now easily attest to Maggie’s latest novel being her best yet.
My attachment to The Good Sister initially comes from the wonderfully presented setting. Maggie has decided to cross the globe with her latest novel and ground her new book predominately in Scotland, which I believe is her native home. Australia does still feature in The Good Sister, only it plays a much smaller role. Maggie’s presentation of her setting is authentic and vivid. I felt a closeness to the main location of the novel in particular, as my own mother was born and raised in Scotland in the 1950’s. This personal connection definitely enhanced my reading of the setting, the characters and their experiences.
The Good Sister features a historically accurate setting. It is accompanied by precise use of period language, Scottish culture and social customs, which were spot on. Where Christensen also excels is in her re-creation of wartime Scotland. I have read a lot of material on World War II, but I feel I know very little about the Scottish experience of the war. Thankfully, Christensen filled in this gap in my knowledge by her enlightening and comprehensive account of life during the war, especially on those left on the home front.
I loved the character list in The Good Sister immensely. Isobel MacDonald, the lead protagonist, is likeable from the outset. I was soon invested in her heartbreaking ordeal in love and life. Supporting Isobel is the other main lead in this novel, Isobel’s 60 year old niece Bel, from Australia. Bel is also a very agreeable leading lady. Bel’s background was interesting to unpack and her accompanying love story will definitely appeal to those who enjoy a mature relationship story filled with romance. Rounding off the character set in The Good Sister is Isobel’s sister and Bel’s mother Nan, who features in the past segments of this novel. There is also Isobel’s friend Eileen, sister Kate and love interests, Bob and John. In the present day, Isobel’s solicitor has a crucial role in the book’s turn of events. Christensen takes care to ensure that each of her characters both in the past and present have a vital part to play in the unfolding tale.
The Good Sister is a dual time frame style narrative, which is my favourite type of novel. Christensen employs the use of this form of storytelling well. I loved the use of Isobel’s diaries, which were used by her niece Bel in the present day to uncover the hidden past of their family’s secrets. I found myself equally drawn to both the past and present storylines, which is testament to Christensen’s skill as a writer. I will admit to racing through the present day events, in order to get back to Isobel’s story in the past, it was quite the addictive read. I liked the way Christensen tracked Isobel’s story from prior to the outbreak of the war, through to the wartime itself, then to the post war period and she followed her story to the 1980’s. Not only did this comprehensive narrative help me feel more invested in the story, I felt a strong attachment to the lead as a direct result.
The ending, when it came, was touching and befitting of this emotional family saga. Not only did the final moments of The Good Sister reconcile the past with the present very well, it highlighted the emigrant experience extremely well. Christensen marries Bel’s feelings towards the country of her birth Scotland, to her second home in Australia, perfectly. It will be sure to draw much semblance with many readers. I endorse The Good Sister whole heartedly, it is a great piece of historical fiction, which will appeal to fans of the genre.
The Good Sister by Maggie Christensen was published on November 23rd by Cala Publishing. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
For more information on Maggie Christensen, check out her website here.
*I wish to thank the author, Maggie Christensen, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.