WHAT SHE HAD TO DO by Mary-Rose Hayes

WHAT SHE HAD TO DO

KIRKUS REVIEW

In this quiet, intense novel, a woman returns to England to comfort the dying mother she rejected long ago.

Penelope Sayle Foley fled her parents’ home on the elegant Regent Crescent in England after a mysterious family dispute. In 1997, she now has a sexy Irish-American husband, a college-age daughter and a San Francisco advertising job, but she must leave them all behind to deal with Imogene, her difficult, demanding mother. Imogene is on morphine to dull the pain of what she calls “tummy trouble” (really “the Big C”) and drifts between the past and present, haunted nightly by “her”—a ghostly figure only she can see and who, Imogene insists, is trying to take her to hell. The novel’s title refers, in part, to Penelope’s decision to move the ailing Imogene to a nursing home, but as the story progresses, readers discover what Imogene herself had to do years before. Although Penelope eventually accepts the fact that she’ll never know the whole story, she learns bits and pieces from Lord Storey, an elderly man who loved and lost Imogene to Penelope’s father, Frank Sayle, during World War II; she finally comes to terms with Imogene after her death. The author’s clever prose—a cross between British and American style that perfectly reflects Penelope’s inner conflict—provides sharp dialogue and a group of charming, eccentric characters straight out of a BBC television series, including Bethany, who does tarot readings and loves her dog; the gardening McBrydes; Simon, a gay architect who always knows just how to handle things in an emergency; and Miss Bannerman, who once pined for Frank Sayle. All serve as perfect foils to the confused, miserable Penelope, who finds herself caught between two different countries, loving and hating a woman she never understood.

An enthralling, well-written family novel.

Page count: 292pp
Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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