Many of you will be familiar with Frances' blog; if you have not yet visited her there, I recommend you do so, because Frances covers such a variety of subjects, and all of her blog entries are of a length that is easy to handle, sort of bite-sized chunks. Her topics range from the funny (check out her "Horse Diaries"!) to the very very serious (Death Row in Texas prisons). Plus, and now I am getting to the point of this blog entry, she is one of the few published authors I know.
(Well, I say I "know" her, but we have never met in person - it is through her blog that I know her a little bit.)
For my birthday, I was given a Kindle from my parents; in the short space of time since I first opened the small cardboard box until now, I have already transferred about 70 books to it, including both of Frances' novels.
"Dead Ernest" was her first published book, and it is also the first one I've read.
And enjoyed! This is a book I can really recommend - not just because I like Frances as a person, from what transpires about her through her blog, but because it really is a good book, a good story well told.
The story in itself is not unusual; quite ordinary people live quite ordinary lives, and their lives change by events some of which they have a certain control over, while others simply happen without them contributing actively to them. This ordinariness makes the story and character development very credible; one can imagine acting in a similar way in the place of the characters (at least I can).
You can read this book either just for entertainment, enjoying the story and wanting to know what will happen next (there is drama, there is romance), or you can accept the lessons taught - never in a school-teacherish manner, but simply by what the characters have to deal and cope with in their lives, in both past and present.
Ernest is the husband of Annie; when we first hear of him in the book, he has just died of a heart attack outside a fish and chip shop (what WAS he doing in front of the chippie? This is one mystery that remains unsolved!).
But we meet him later on as a younger man in the book, when Annie tells the story of her life - which is invariably also the story of her marriage of 60 years) - to Andrew, the vicar who is asked to visit her by her son Billy. In spite of Annie not being a churchgoer or a particularly religious person at all, a friendship develops between her and Andrew, and she starts telling him her story.
Shortly after these regular visits have started, Billy's daughter Ophelia, Annie's only grandchild, comes to see her grandmother, also originally sent there by Billy.
Things between Annie, Andrew and Ophelia turn out rather different from what Billy imagined when he initiated these visits, and the lives of all three of them are changed by what they learn about each other and about themselves.
As I said, nothing in this book is unrealistic. People behave like humans do; Annie does not willingly play the role of grieving widow everybody seems to expect her to be, Ophelia is not her parents' dream-daughter, and Andrew is not quite the man of god he feels he should be.
I won't tell you more and I won't quote anything from "Dead Ernest", although there are many bits worth quoting - but I want you to read it for yourself.