You can always rely on Mary Wesley for a good reading experience, and luckily, she has a big backlist to choose from. I happened to select “An Imaginative Experience” off my bookshelves, and although the blurb on the back cover wasn’t too enticing, I jumped in and was immediately entranced. It’s a very English book in many ways, although if I were to define what exactly that was, it would be hard. Her characters are very real and I can easily imagine meeting them on the streets in Bedford one day.
The novel starts off with a rather strange incident of a woman stopping a train to up-end an upside down sheep in a field. This event brings various characters into orbit with each other, and as the book progresses and the characters gradually interact with each other, the story gels together. However, it’s not predictable and although I rather knew that the end would be as it was, it was still satisfying.
One of the main lead characters was Julia Piper (the woman who up-ended the sheep). She is trying to deal with the deaths of her (ex-) husband and her young son who were both killed in a car accident. At the same time, she is also trying to handle the fact that this ex-husband of hers was also her mother’s lover, so there are all sorts of things there to think about on so many levels. Sylvester is a newly divorced man who watched Julia at the sheep/train incident, and takes it upon himself to protect her from another character, Maurice Benson. Maurice saw the sheep incident as well, but decides to terrorize Julia – Sylvester tries to protect Julia from him.
So there are these three intersecting Venn diagrams of people whose lives weave to and fro. I do think this is a book where you will need to sit down as a reader and give it a good chunk of time to get into it and get the characters straight in your head. At first, when Wesley was introducing each of the characters, it was a bit confusing, but that may have been the reader’s fault more than anything.
There are also a number of entertaining secondary characters: Rebecca, the retired well-meaning but slightly interfering secretary of Sylvester, the Patel family, the other people renting the flats in Julia’s house… Wesley does a really good job of describing each of these, so although they are not primary in the story, they are still crystal clear in your mind as you read through the plot.
Wesley died in 2002 after being awarded a CBE, but she has a long list of other titles to wade through so all is not lost.
One thing I really admire about Wesley is that she was not published until she was seventy years old, and then she went on to sell three million copies of her books, including ten best-sellers. Not bad, and gives credence to the saying that it’s never too late to do something…
A fast enjoyable read.