Book Review: The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley by Susan Örnbratt

Irish-born Gillian McAllister knew she was meant for bigger things than a quiet life among her large extended family. Leaving home at seventeen against her protective father’s wishes, Gillian has lived several lifetimes. She was a nanny for a maharaja, a caretaker for WWII internees, and a nurse on the Isle of Man before finally becoming a wife, mother, and grandmother in London, Canada, where she spent the majority of her eighty-nine years. Now with only weeks to live after being stricken by cancer, she knows her time with her beloved granddaughter and namesake is truly precious. Before she goes, she wants to pass on the poems that capture her long, adventurous life to the junior Gillian in hopes that she will use the poems to write about grandmother’s ultimate adventure, her hidden love story. While on vacation in Canada, the teenage Gillian meets and falls madly in love with Christian Hunter. Her love of Christian consumes her, but she leaves him at the cusp of a war that soon alters the course of the world, but destiny isn’t finished with Gillian, and the two reunite after the carnage only to find their love is as fiery and fierce as ever. However, even a love this strong can’t outrun fate, and Gillian is determined to find a way to show her beloved granddaughter the truth before it is too late.

A beautiful theme within this novel is the simple notion of loving life. Even before she steps out into the adult world and leaves Ireland, Gillian knows that life is for living. She wants to squeeze every drop of adventure possible from the time she is given and feast on all that it has to offer. Her ingenuity, spunk, and spicy attitude create an unquenchable need to travel, to meet people, and, most importantly, to make the world a better place. She refuses to settle for a mediocre life and rejects the moderation others preach and try to instill in her. Her “magnificent obsession” isn’t diminished by anything– not heartbreak, a world war, or even death. She lives with passion and gusto, fostering the belief in others that love and laughter, stories and adventures, make life worth living. Her sprawling life’s story is more than just survival and lost love. It’s about finding joy and purpose amongst death and destruction.

The character relationships between Gillian and others is a perfectly developed part of the novel. Gillian’s attachment to her granddaughter is more than just a name. Young Gillian is an aspiring novelist. Both women understand the importance of storytelling and the impact of words. From the moment Gilly was born, Gillian felt the connection between them, and only Gilly can breathe life into her adoration of Christian Hunter. She entrusts her poems to Gilly without telling her the story, allowing Gilly to uncover the secret she has kept for over fifty years, knowing Gilly will understand more than anyone else in Gillian’s life. Watching their last days together unfold is touching and reminiscent for any reader who has shared a bond with a grandparent. 

Gillian’s secret love, Christian, is another important relationship. From the time she was young, Gillian knew someone was waiting for her, someone drawing closer with each day, someone staring at the same moon and longing for another. When she meets Christian, she just knows as does he, and though, ultimately, Gillian comes to realize she doesn’t want to devote herself to one man when the world is waiting, she cannot deny the connection between them. The two are the epitome of opposites attract with his easy-going, unrushed personality, but he immediately sees the effect she has on others, her zest for life. No matter how hard either tries to drown out the other, they can’t escape their entwined destinies, and their contrary natures create a perfect balance. The dance of fate between Christian and Gillian is thrilling and will keep the reader wondering until the end. 

The gorgeous settings of Gillian’s life are an integral part of her history. The richly painted scenes are beautiful and inspiring for the character as well as the reader. From the sweeping sea cliffs to the serenity of Gillian’s cottage on the Isle of Man, the setting becomes its own character. Gillian both embodies and is affected by the scenery. In the quiet of a winter-draped meadow and the countryside teeming with life, Gillian sees herself and the many lives she’s lived.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

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