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Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin (2015-07-23) Paperback – January 1, 1602
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Top reviews from the United States
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"hid my clenched teeth with a smile."
"Three miles of small talk before I could collapse into bed."
I couldn't put this book down until I finished it. Sugar and Snails
The writing was pretty good. I would recommend the book.
This midlife crisis propels the woman on a journey of self-discovery. At fifteen, Diana and her parents made a decision that changed her life forever. Now, she has to deal with the reality of that mysterious trip to Cairo all those long years ago.
Diana’s past remained a secret, and not even her closest friends knew the truth. To make matters worse, this guilt eventually cripples her as an individual. She is reclusive and painfully shy.
By the time her secret is revealed, I found myself speechless, as I’d never fully guessed the true nature of her mystery. But this story isn’t about the mystery so much as it is about Diana and how she deals with the past so that can move on with her future. In the end, Simon didn’t matter. But Diana’s relationship with Simon was the mechanism that forced her to come to grips with the past.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Anne Goodwin, but it won’t be the last. I stayed up late into the night enthralled by the writing, and with Diana’s character. This is an unusual coming-of-age tale, even though the protagonist is middle-aged. Some themes in this book deal with sexuality, self-harm, and identity. This is a must-read for anyone who ever felt different as a child or misunderstood!
What an outstanding read - the themes in this book are about identity and conforming to expectations, about sexuality, bullying, self-harm, adolescence…secrets and more (no spoilers here). I have not read anything like this before: powerful, engaging, intelligent, well written, with a mystery that is gradually revealed. I was really surprised at what this book had to offer – the synopsis just didn’t prepare me for the complexity of the issues and the emotional journey encountered in these pages.
A good read is entertaining, is engaging, is well written and if we are lucky shares a perspective that maybe the reader hasn’t considered before- Sugar and Snails ticks all these boxes and more. Anne Goodwin is a talented writer and I am sure we will be hearing more from her in the near future.
There are so many social issues to contemplate in this narrative (and I am having so much difficulty trying to avoid spoilers, I want you discover the depth of this story yourself.). The reader is given plenty of opportunity to consider what is being offered up whilst tying to work out the mystery that Cairo holds. Goodwin writes a dual time line/dual narrative – Diane Dodsworth’s life as a young person and Diane‘s life now,. Diane’s early life is gradually revealed; going to school, facing many of the same challenges we may have faced in our youth – feelings of isolation, or not fitting in, not being the popular one in school…trying to work out where we fit in the world and what we want to do with our lives. Diane’s life now – is reflective; she is still contemplating the decisions she made in her youth that have directed her adult life, she still trying to work out where she fits in the world. Identity. Such an important part of how we see ourselves and expect others to see us and treat us but how much thought do you consciously give to this aspect of your personality? Some maybe more than others.
This is a wonderful coming of age (all be it a mature age) narrative with unique perspectives that will open your eyes to the world you are part of.
Top reviews from other countries
Her story is compelling. Diana’s poise, introversion and integrity make the reader both admire and feel protective of her, and this increases the more we learn about her. While she is the emotional heart of the story, the role of her parents is almost equally as fascinating. When Diana was fifteen her mother and father made an incredibly brave decision that changes her life completely. The path they took to reach that point, and their subsequent responses to their daughter, really affected me, and the thought of parents being faced with such a huge decision and its fallout had me thinking long into the night.
Diana’s secret is a big one and the reveal is sensitively handled. There is no unnecessary melodrama. In fact, one of the things that draws the reader to Diana is the way in which the author convincingly relates how naïve she is about some aspects of her situation. Diana’s experience is all the more thought-provoking because she takes us on a journey from childhood through to middle age, and encourages us consider how far she and society have come in the last few decades.
The deft combination of coming-of-age and mid-life-crisis produces an excellent story. I love good, intelligent writing, and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
Powerful and poignant
Di is a psychology lecturer whom we know in the first few pages lives with the kind of issues that have caused repeated suicide attempts and a continuing need to self-harm. But she has met a new man and decides things can’t go on like this. If she wants Simon and a ‘normal’ life she is going to have to resolve the hangover of guilt and confusion from her childhood which culminated in a mysterious trip to Cairo when she was a teenager.
Neither the blurb nor the book-cover (on my elderly Kindle, anyway!) gives much away as to what Sugar and Snails is all about and I admit for a while I did feel frustrated by the knowledge there were secrets being held back from the reader. However as Di’s current difficulties are fleshed out by episodes from her past life (all beautifully depicted) the writer’s control of the story is never in doubt and when things fall suddenly into place there is a brilliantly paced denouement. Moreover by the end I was totally engaged with Di and desperately needed to know how she was going to move on.
There is a lot of pain in this book, so it’s not light entertainment, but there is humour too. The only comparison I can think of is Rose Tremain’s 'Sacred Country', and I would say that Sugar and Snails deals with a similar topic in a subtle, humane and moving way without ever compromising on character. My only quibble is with boyfriend Simon – somehow I miss the kind of spark between him and Diana that will change either of their lives. But in the end Simon is only a catalyst for Di’s reassessment of her life and her place in her family. He is arguably the least important member of a colourful and convincing cast. In all other respects this is a brilliantly executed debut novel which I hope gets the recognition it deserves.
The central character, Di, is desperately holding her secret past to herself. It soon becomes clear that her life is “paralysed” by earlier events from which she is unable to release herself and have left her trapped as a socially awkward individual who feels unable to live true to the person she really is.
The opening scene in the book finds her sitting half way down the stairs, head bowed and clutching herself defensively round the chest; body language that reflects her state of mind. In parallel the author also withholds the truth of the past from the reader and just as Di finds the means and resolve to share her secret with friends this is mirrored by the way the author shares Di’s secrets with the reader.
Some readers may guess Di’s secret early on in the book but that doesn’t matter – it is not a “who done it” and even those who guess right will still admire the way that the author skilfully drops hints that enable the reader to incrementally piece together the facts of the past. This technique is not only used to reveal what has happened to Di in the past but also to lead the reader to an understanding of her father and his relationship with his daughter. The “slow reveal” technique requires regular back and forth shifts along Di’s time continuum. This has potential for confusing the reader but Anne Goodwin’s vivid prose and clever structuring allows the reader to easily follow the threads and join up the links without difficulty.
The author provides a strong supporting cast of characters in the form of Di’s parents and Venus, her long standing friend and work colleague. Perhaps less convincing is the male love interest, Simon. It is not easy to understand why Di might be attracted to this character other than that he was an available male who showed interest in her. However, as another reviewer has pointed out, Simon is perhaps little more than a device that enables Di to break free from the past; beyond that we have little interest in the outcome of the relationship. It is Di’s evolving relationship with herself and the slow reveal of her traumatic journey that keeps the reader enthralled right to the end of this compelling book.