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Separate Beds: A Novel Hardcover – January 20, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The prolific Buchan (Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman) paints an achingly touching portrait of a marriage and family in crisis, hobbled by economic recession and long-buried emotions. For middle-class Londoners Annie and Tom Nicholson--she's a hospital administrator, he's a BBC exec --the abrupt departure of their eldest daughter, Mia ("I won't be forgiving you and Dad anytime soon," she writes), exposes more than the fissures between parents who've drifted apart. It puts unbearable strain on Mia's twin, Jake, a single parent with a foundering business, and sister Emily, a struggling writer. This good-natured, misguided family stumbles haplessly toward a breaking point when Tom loses his job, and Jake, baby Maisie, and Tom's mum, Hermione, all move in. Suddenly, what had seemed a well-tended life becomes threadbare and crowded with shared disappointment, fear, and need. Here's a textured, layered story of love that builds on trust, founders on lies, and then finally discovers something to believe in. Buchan masterfully captures the Nicholsons' personal story with her richly drawn characters--and makes it reflect all of our own frazzled--and salvageable--lives. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Tom and Annie are an unhappy, middle-aged British couple whose emotional and physical connection has dried up due to repressed resentments and secrets, both usual and unusual. Their three children are in various stages of independence, and Tom’s mother is in the early stages of dementia. When the economy starts to fail in 2008, Tom loses his job, and both his mother and son move home. His son’s marriage is also failing, and the contrast between the relationships is one of the novel’s most intriguing elements. Central to the couple’s unhappiness is their missing daughter, Mia, whose disappearance is at first treated so mysteriously that the reader has the feeling of having started the book in the middle. As the scenes shift between past and present, the trajectory of a marriage is effectively illustrated. Several very recent novels, including Lynn Schnurberger’s The Best Laid Plans (2011) and Carol Edgarian’s Three Stages of Amazement (2011), use the current economic collapse as a starting point for looking at modern marriage. Like chick lit and mommy lit, perhaps the trend will soon deserve its own name: recessionist lit. --Marta Segal Block

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (January 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022366
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #648,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 14, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Elizabeth Buchan is a British writer who has garnered a following here in the US. This novel, "Separate Beds", is available in the US on Kindle now and will not be issued in regular book form til January, 2011. I am reviewing the book that I ordered from AmazonUK.

Buchan writes novels about contemporary British families. She pays particular attention to the wife/mother character, around whom most of the other characters revolve. She also pays particular attention to the nuances of family life in today's society. "Separate Beds" is a searing look at a modern family on the verge of dissolution. The father has lost his job - been made "redundant" - at the BBC, after having lost almost all connection with his family during his working years. Too many hours put in at work and very few hours put in at home has made Tom Nicholson a stranger to his three children and his wife, Annie. Tom and Annie have slept in separate bedrooms for years, as the marriage has dragged on with little emotional or physical connection between husband and wife. Annie has a good job at a London hospital; working outside the house while tending to the home and her two children.

Tom and Annie had three children but Mia, one of a set of twins, has moved out of the home after a furious fight with her parents. She has been estranged from her family for five years or so. The other children, Mia's twin brother, Jake, is himself struggling in a disintegrating marriage and is in the throes of single fatherhood of his year old daughter, Maisie. Emily, the third Nicholson child, is, at age 23, trying to find her own way in the world. Tom's aging mother makes up the fourth generation of Nicholson who finds herself adrift after her money runs out and she must leave her nursing home and move in with Annie and Tom.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a well-crafted analysis of a seemingly functional well-to-do family in London, the Nicholsons. Touches of humour guarantee a smile but this is not what the book is about.

Tom and Annie have been sleeping in separate beds for years. For some people this could be a choice of comfortable practicality. Not for them. Things started to go wrong long ago for a precise reason which neither of them is willing to speak out loud. Underlying issues and resentment mar their present life, although they both throw a coat of civility and politeness over it all. Something unspoken but always brimming threatens to get out, and never does. Their house is pregnant with a disquieting, loud silence. Why are they still together? Force of habit? Fear of the unknown that would come after so many years of marriage? Or is there something else? To the outsiders, they seem to have a good life. Tom is a well-respected businessman working for the BBC, Annie is a manager at a local hospital.

Life goes on. They have three grown children, Mia, Jake and Emily, who lead their own life. One day, Tom delivers dreadful news, as a result everybody's world is turned upside down. The impact haunts an already fragile marriage and it involves the children too. Will they all be able to adjust, to function properly ever again?
As trouble always knocks twice -or several times- other unexpected, serious events shake the ground undoing the remaining sort of tranquility that had been taken for granted for so long. This involves Jake especially. The Nicholsons realise that they must try to do their best to face the facts. The house that was once so silent becomes the epicentre of life, albeit in a negative light.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fairly typical plot for this sort of adult-chick-lit: middle-aged parents, adult children each with his/her own problems, and an aging Gran thrown in. Also a pitiful little dog. All very relevant, especially as the background is the current economic crisis. But Buchan keeps sending mixed signals. Tom and his wife Annie, who have slept in separate bedrooms for years [since their elder daughter left home, for which Annie blames Tom, it turns out] are forced back into one room when Tom's 80+year-old mother's investments will no longer sustain her in a care home and she comes to live with them. The proximity has Annie and Tom each reacting to the other's physical presence in ways that seem tender and at least semi-erotic. So you keep thinking: Will they? Have they? When will they? and all the time Annie is talking to her best friend at work about leaving Tom. So there is no clear through line here -- and maybe that's realism, but for the reader it's confusion.

One of the best things about the book is the grandmother, not that she is likable. Everyone is kind to her, heroically so, considering how much they didn't want her there. She articulates her feelings about being alone and suffering loss of everything that made life valuable to her, and points out that soon Annie, whom she has never liked, will one day be in her situation.

The book ends abruptly, with the implication that this one turn of the cards is going to make everything all right again. I think Buchan just got tired of all these fairly dull people.
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