I rarely if ever read other Amazon reviews before writing my own, but this morning in preparation for writing a review of Leeway Cottage by Beth Gutcheon, I did peek at one or two and am afraid I wasn't quite as taken with this book as I thought I would be. A long time reader of Beth Gutcheon's since her first book, Still Missing to her latest one More than You Know, I have always found her novels to be refreshing even taking on different themes and almost different writing styles each time. But after finishing Leeway Cottage, I wondered if Ms. Gutcheon took on more than she should have in one book. And now looking back on this title, I do wonder what point the author was trying to make since there were two very distinct storylines and they never seemed to mesh that well to me.
The story begins with the well to do background of one of the main characters, Sydney, and how her ancestors built and lived in a cottage in a summer community. When Sydney is a young woman, good friends of her family live in Leeway Cottage which will be her home one day. Life is good for Sydney or so it appears. A Kennedy type life Sydney sails during the day and parties at night with her crowd of friends. Sydney is destined to come out at a debutante ball, attend college for a year or two, marry a wealthy man, bear children and hopefully live a happy life. But when her father abruptly dies and Sydney is left in her mother's demanding and at times abusive hands Sydney's home life changes considerably. And than a chance encounter with a Danish pianist, Laurus, and meeting him again in New York City when Sydney leaves home at 18, sets in motion two very different worlds which will soon collide.
The first part of the book describes to readers Sydney's dilettante lifestyle. And while her life with just her mother is considerably difficult, Sydney also inherits a great deal of money from her father which when she's 18 allows her to leave her mother's home. This money also allows her to buy Leeway Cottage when it goes on the market. And shortly after the birth of their first child and war breaks out, Sydney retreats to Leeway Cottage renewing her old friendships but this time on her own terms as a wealthy woman in her own right. But Laurus does not return to Leeway Cottage with Sydney. As a Dane and a Jew, Laurus feels compelled to return to Europe and serve in the underground jeopardizing his life and marriage. And now we have a shift in the book as Sydney is at home o once again living the high life among society despite the war while Laurus is hard at work not only trying to save members of his own family from Hitler, but the lives of other Danish Jews as well.
While I was familiar with some of the stories surrounding the Danish Resistance during WW II, I did learn more about this and enjoyed reading the historical information provided in this book. But then I began to wonder why I never felt the two distinct parts of the book never fully came together to tell one large story. While there were parts that were very well written I was left disappointed by the efforts of a writer who has done much better in the past. And just as I was about to finish the book I was further confounded by the last chapter and wondered if it was misplaced in the publishing process. After we learn about an illicit love affair which seemed to be written for shock value and the end of Sydney and Laurus' lives, Ms. Gutcheon returns to the war and describes Laurus' sister's life and release from a concentration camp. I still wonder why the author chose to end the book with these events since they seemed to come from left field.
I really wanted to enjoy this book and recommend it to others as I have done in the past with other books by this author. I do think that Ms. Gutcheon was trying to chronicle a marriage between two people from different worlds and not necessarily suite for a happy life together. Or perhaps she tried to show the different lifestyles of two characters and how their desires ultimately affected their lives together. In the end, though, I thought that the author might have done better to write two books rather than the one she did. That way we would have had a much larger story of the Danish Resistance and the life of a socialite.
If after reading this review you are still interested in reading worthwhile Beth Gutcheon books, I suggest you read her first book Still Missing or her wonderful paralleling story set over a period of 100 years, More than You Know.