Bestselling city author Carole Matthews is celebrated for her romantic comedy novels but her latest paperback shows she can sensitively tackle hard-hitting issues too, writes Georgina Butler.
Domestic violence, fear and cultural difference all feature in ‘A Place to Call Home’. However, through a cast of likeable characters and her usual lively prose, Carole ensures an uplifting read.
For most people, the maxim ‘there is no place like home’ rings true. But, for the less fortunate, home is not the sanctuary it should be.
This book emphasises the importance of the people we surround ourselves with. Sometimes it takes monumental courage, a lot of trust and a little bit of luck to overcome your difficulties and make a new beginning.
Central character Ayesha moved from her native Sri Lanka to Milton Keynes (a decade before the start of the story) to meet and marry her husband, Suresh Rasheed. Their first year of marriage was a happy one but, once baby daughter Sabina arrived, Suresh grew more withdrawn, possessive and controlling.
The story opens as Ayesha and eight-year-old Sabina flee the house they share with Suresh and his parents. In the dead of night they slip quietly away, leaving behind the life of mental and physical abuse that Ayesha has endured – and fears Sabina may fall victim to next.
Sabina no longer speaks. She has not uttered a word since witnessing Suresh beat Ayesha in a particularly brutal attack a year ago.
Ayesha is so frightened of what Suresh may one day to do Sabina that her resolve to escape is strengthened.
Having carefully stolen enough money from her husband’s wallet over the past months to help them on their way, Ayesha’s plan is to seek help at a women’s hostel in London.
Regrettably, the hostel has no space for the devastated mother and her young child but the woman in charge of placements calls in a favour from a friend.
Ayesha is granted her fresh start in a big house belonging to Hayden, a wealthy former popstar who has kept himself hidden away for years.
Hayden has only opened his home to two other people – Crystal, a gentlemen’s club dancer with a heart of gold, and Joy, an older, stubborn woman with a passion for gardening (and a softer side that she keeps well-hidden).
As different as these unlikely housemates may be, it proves to be the perfect environment for both Ayesha and Sabina to thrive in. Their personalities flourish with the warmth and kindness shown to them and, in turn, they bring welcome change to their new friends’ lives as well.
Still, the underlying terror that Suresh may somehow find them haunts Ayesha.
Sabina is, after all, his daughter and Ayesha feels powerless to stop him if he tries to take her away.
The suspense Carole creates in parts is thrilling.
Her books always have a powerful narrative but the sense of trepidation in ‘A Place to Call Home’ really drives the story on. I was wholeheartedly rooting for Ayesha, Sabina and their newfound friends and desperate for them to feel safe.
Each of the characters has their own personal challenge to conquer.
Ayesha and Sabina need to find the confidence to trust again and embrace happiness. Hayden needs to rediscover himself and the pleasure to be taken in the little things after experiencing a huge loss. Crystal needs to learn to value herself so that other people will too and Joy needs to overcome her fears to be closer to her sons.
As with all of Carole’s books, there is plenty of warmth and humour – this is a light, engaging read.
Friendship and blossoming romances balance the darker elements and, as unlikely as it is that many cases of domestic abuse play out in such a heartening way, the story is poignant.
I enjoyed the bond which developed between Ayesha, Crystal and Joy and the way that a silent Sabina managed to draw Hayden out of himself.
Equally, Hayden’s tender love for Sabina, treating her as if she was his own daughter at times, was very touching and a stark contrast to the passages about Suresh and his selfish, immoral ways.
This is a tale of lost souls who find and help each other. It emphasises that the term ‘family’ does not have to apply only to those we are related to – the people who touch our hearts and go out of their way to support us are the ones who really matter.
By the end of this book, I was left with the lovely feeling that the world is not such a bad place after all – as long as we can all find ‘a place to call home’.
‘A Place to Call Home’ is nestled comfortably in the top 20 bestseller listings and Carole is currently hard at work on her Christmas 2015 novel.
The next release is her Christmas 2014 book. ‘The Christmas Party’ will be available in hardback in August and will be Carole’s 25th book!
To buy ‘A Place to Call Home’, or to find out more about it, visit: http://www.carolematthews.com/books/a-place-to-call-home/