Read: 9-27 June 2010
Whenever I need a pick-me-up or just want to curl up under a blanket and forget about my problems for a while, I turn to Rosamunde Pilcher. Her books are not exactly what you’d call high literature (I suppose they belong to the women’s fiction category), but they always give me that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Under Gemini is no exception.
Flora and Rose are twins who were separated at birth – their parents took one each and never told them about it. Twenty-two years later they suddenly find themselves face to face at a restaurant in London. Rose takes off for Greece the next day, but offers Flora her flat for the weekend. Then Antony, Rose’s ex-fiancé, shows up at the door, wanting Rose to come with him home to Scotland. His grandmother Tuppy is ill, and wants so badly to see her grandson and the woman he’s going to marry – Antony hasn’t gotten around to telling her about him and Rose splitting up, and now, thinking Tuppy is going to die, he hasn’t the heart to tell her the truth. So he elicits Flora to come with him and pretend to be her twin sister for the weekend. But once in Scotland, Flora begins to realise Rose may not have been the innocent girl she thought she was…
Once you accept the incredible coincidence of two twin sisters separated at birth accidentally bumping into each other at a London restaurant (which only took me about a second – it’s not impossible, just unlikely), you can look forward to a touching story of old secrets, new lies and of course love. I once attended a lecture on writing screenplays, and the lecturer gave us this rule: ”Give the audience what they want, but do it in a way they don’t expect.” I think this is one of Mrs. Pilcher’s strengths; a happy ending comes as no surprise, but you don’t know how you will reach the end until you’re (nearly) there.
Under Gemini is, like many of Mrs. Pilcher’s books, set mostly in Scotland. She paints a beautiful picture of the country and its lochs, mountains and beaches. Her descriptions are so vivid, I could almost smell the salty air and hear the lapping of the waves. Maybe it’s because I live in a small town by the sea myself, but the little fishing town of Tarbole feels very real to me.
The dialogue feels a little stiff sometimes, especially in the voice of young Flora (I don’t think “ghastly” is a much-used word by twenty-somethings, even in 1976 when the book was written). It fits the older characters perfectly, though, and 7-year-old Jason has a very credible childish way of speaking.
Speaking of characters, they are the reason I love Mrs. Pilcher’s books so much. There’s not a lot of action, so the story is driven forward by the characters and the relationships between them. Flora is a sweet, level-headed young woman who’s at a crossroads in her life – she’s just arrived back in London after staying at home with her father for the past year, and now she has to find a job and a flat and start a new life. She has moral qualms about pretending to be someone else, but is so intrigued by her newfound sister that she can’t resist trying to be her. It’s interesting how Rose only appears on a few pages, yet she’s one of the characters we get to know the most simply through hearing the other characters talking about her. Tuppy is a charming old lady who’s been running the big household of Fernrigg all of her life, but is now faced with old age and not being able to do everything herself anymore. Isobel is the worried daughter fussing over her mother, and Antony is the successful businessman full of good intentions, but who acts before he thinks. Then there’s Hugh Kyle, the village doctor, whom everyone seems to like but who doesn’t seem to like Flora – or Rose.
I found myself wanting to spend time with these characters. I want to be friends with Flora and listen to Tuppy’s stories. I want to live in a big old house like Fernrigg and help Isobel in the garden and walk the dogs at the beach. And most of all I want to attend a real highland dance with reels and food and flower arrangements.
Ultimately Under Gemini is about the search for your true identity. It is a perfect book to read outside in the summer sunshine, to wind down with at the end of a long day or when you just need the literary equivalent of a hug.
My rating: 5