I have to confess that I wasn’t looking forward to The Endless Beach. Jenny Colgan may have legions of fans, but after reading an early work of hers years ago, I’d pretty much decided that I wasn’t one of them. Then there is the issue of novels about small Scottish communities, written by people who don’t live in them. Too often, the result is an anthropological study of quaint eccentrics, detailed for the amusement of outsiders. Fortunately, however, Colgan’s characters are too well drafted to put any real island commmunity’s back up.
The Endless Beach is a sequel, revisiting the fictitious island of Mure, where The Summer Seaside Kitchen was set, and it begins with a brief recap of the characters, including hardy islanders, rich Americans and a tragic refugee doctor from Syria.
The previous novel was a romance detailing the relationship between Flora, the Mure native who gives up a paralegal career in London to run a bakery back home, and her brooding lawyer boss. But things aren’t going so smoothly now, and questions of love are also in the air for Flora’s brother Fintan and his billionaire boyfriend, the refugee and the island’s headteacher, and an ex-boyfriend of Flora’s, engaged to a local bridezilla.
It’s escapist stuff, on the whole, and while the characters aren’t the most original ever dreamed up, Colgan’s breezy style and light touch pull you into the tale, even when she’s detailing serious subjects such as depression, post traumatic stress, damaging childhoods and illness. The characters are rendered believable through humour, some sharp insights into human nature and a deft use of profane language.
There are some atmospheric descriptions of the local landscape, too, and mouthwatering descriptions of local produce and food. (There are even recipes at the back for anyone made hungry by the references to cheese scones).
Perhaps because The Endless Beach is a sequel, and Colgan is mindful of keeping readers up to speed, she sometimes tries to pack too much information into a sentence, for example: “Inge-Britt, the manager of the Harbour’s Rest (and one-time amour of Joel’s which Flora tried uncomfortably to forget and Inge-Britt, who had a fairly healthy Icelandic attitude towards this kind of thing, already had genuinely forgotten), was laying out glasses of ordered-in Prosecco, some of which had been poured too early and was already going flat – although Flora didn’t mention that.”
Then again, perhaps such exposition-heavy statements give an accurate impression of a gossipy small community, where news is imparted at breakneck speed.
Most of all the novel is about love; romantic, familial and parental, and also the love one feels deep in the bones for a beautiful place that offers sanctuary, whether you are coming from a war zone or the high pressure boardrooms of New York. As a light holiday read, The Endless Beach is better than it needs to be.
The Endless Beach, by Jenny Colgan, Little, Brown, 448pp, £7.99