I really enjoyed Anne Berry's first two books, The Hungry Ghosts and The Water Children, so was really delighted to get hold of her third novel. She is a brilliant writer, her language is powerful and imaginative, but she is not easy on the reader, which would suggest her books make an impact. The Adoption is no exception.
The Adoption - now there's a title that doesn't beat about the bush - tells the story of three women, beginning with Bethan, who makes the mistake of falling in love with the German POW who helps out on her parents' farm in Wales at the tail-end of the war. It is the beginning of 1948 when she gives birth to Lucilla, a single parent under the watchful eye of her mother, her lovely Thorston banished and her daughter set for adoption. She is a sympathetic character, even if she is unable to stand up to her parents. Blighted by guilt and misery, she allows them to determine the course of her life.
Then there's Harriet, unlovely and full of stern self-righteousness. She marries Merfyn, a fellow member of the temperance league and in spite of her fine housekeeping skills - though she's more of an incinerator than a cook - their union produces no children. Somehow they adopt Lucilla, aware of her doubtful parentage, but hopeful that careful upbringing will nip any unpleasant characteristics in the bud.
Poor Lucilla can't help it but she's doomed to be her natural parents' child and never really fits in. She has her mother's love of the great outdoors, her passionate temperament and her father's artistic talent. These traits are not appreciated by her adoptive parents in their grim London house, and the story is a description of their incompatibility and constant battles.
The plot weaves in present events, as Lucilla decides to trace her birth mother, with those of the past, her childhood and growing up. It is not a happy story, but thank goodness, Lucilla is a wonderful creation - rather wicked and roguish. The story of her visit to the cinema with her cousins (ghastly Frank and more convivial Rachel) along with stuffy Barbara, a potential sister for Lucilla, is hilarious.
It's a mercy that she meets Henry, and although they struggle to make ends meet, they are truly happy and create a warm and loving home for their family - complete with dogs and lots of fresh air.
Anne Berry doesn't shirk from showing her characters warts and all. Lucilla never holds back letting everyone know how she feels and as such can be hard to handle. Bethan loses her ability to love again and Harriet, well it's difficult to imagine how anyone can be quite so nasty. Like Berry's previous books, this is a story about the terrible things people can do to each other. It is also about what it means to belong and it left me with a lump in my throat when I got to the last page. This is definitely a writer that makes an impact.