SUSIE CONNORS, 48-year-old widow, mother and grandmother, has spent eight weeks in a coma. Her three adult children are delighted when she comes round, but in the following weeks are shocked to discover that her character has changed.
Gone is the loving unselfish Suzie; in her place a swearing, combative woman, who talks before she thinks, and who is determined to put her own concerns first.
She falls out with her elder daughter, Jess, when she discovers that the freelance journalist is having an affair with a married editor.
She agrees, reluctantly, to spend her days caring for her troublesome grandson, so that younger daughter Sharon, whose second pregnancy has caused complications, can rest. However, she has no patience with the child, and is far from the doting grandmother that she once was.
Susie still reveres her son, Noel, who is living at home while he revises for his final exams; she assumes all is well in his world, but others, principally his best friend, fear he is he hiding something.
Meanwhile, signing up for all manner of classes, Susie is much too influenced by her sister, a manipulator, who she had previously shunned. Her children, and her friends are bewildered.
Does she not remember the harm Mandy once caused her? As the weeks pass, it becomes obvious to Susie that there are chunks of time she simply can’t remember.
Irish writer Colette Caddle has been around a long time. Her first novel was published in 1999, and Second Time Around is her 16th book.
She has a faithful following for her novels, which are similar in style to those of Sheila O’Flanagan and Cathy Kelly, yet she has never broken through to achieve the kind of sales, or the fame, that those colleagues, who came before her, managed to do.
Second Time Around ticks all the boxes for the genre. There are issues; namely autism, and the benefit to children on the spectrum of assistance dogs; there’s sexual harassment; and there are the effects of secrets from the past. Add a little mystery and you have a pretty comprehensive package.
The characters ring true; each has a full life; a credible past, and ambitions or aspirations for the future, and they develop as the novel progresses. Jess’s professional life was accurately portrayed. There was romance, and this wasn’t reserved for the young, and there was conflict too.
The plot is driven by dialogue, and this has led to some repetition. Various problems were discussed among the different characters, and this rather slowed the pace.
Another problem was that some of the issues and difficulties were too easily solved. We never get into the mind of the child with autism.
We are told that, once they recognise the diagnosis, the adults now understand him, but I didn’t feel we learned anything new about the condition.
Then there was Sharon’s pregnancy. The doctors stated that there was great concern for her health; yet, when she’s near full term, a time when high blood-pressure tends to become acute, she is cleared as healthy enough to host a party.
At 454 pages, this novel feels too long; it would have benefited with more rigorous editing, but overall it’s a good read.
It’s great following Susie as she examines the traumas of her past, and makes the most of her second chance at life. And the various relationships are well handled.
The ending will leave readers satisfied. All the loose ends are tied. Can Susie and her family, having resolved their issues, look forwards to a promising future? And what of the less-deserving characters.
Will they have a rosy ending, or will they get their comeuppance?