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Sheer Abandon    by Penny Vincenzi order for
Sheer Abandon
by Penny Vincenzi
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Reading Sheer Abandon is like opening a box of a favorite brand of chocolates and nibbling at a delicious variety. Penny Vincenzi gives us an engrossing plot, along with quite a few rather larger than life leads we quickly grow to like, even when their actions or responses occasionally irritate us.

Vincenzi introduces her story with a window back in time to when three young women - Martha, Clio, and Jocasta - as well as Jocasta's brother Josh, met en route to Thailand in 1985 on backpacking trips around the world. Later, she shows us one of them keeping her pregnancy a secret, going into labor on her flight back to England, delivering the baby herself in a broom closet at Heathrow airport, and then abandoning the infant. We wonder why she would be impelled to take such desperate (and criminal) action - and also which of the three women it was. That mystery pulls us through the first half of the novel, as we meet these women fifteen years later, and watch in wonder as the author masterfully weaves their lives together - and shows us how what happened to each of them in 1985 influenced their futures.

Though they had all agreed to meet when they returned to England, somehow that never happened. The story fast forwards to the year 2000. Jocasta is an empathetic reporter with a talent for getting the most recalcitrant subjects to yield their stories to her. She lives with - and loves - the paper's political editor, Nick, but is unhappy that he's unwilling to commit to marriage. Her feckless brother Josh is having marital problems, his long-suffering wife having had enough of his affairs. Nick is covering a new left of center Tory party. Martha is an obsessive workaholic lawyer, who works on corporate acquisitions. She reluctantly begins a relationship with a much younger man, in parallel with being courted to stand for Parliament as a member of the new party. Clio is a GP who put aside her own ambitions to give more time to her controlling surgeon husband - her marriage is soon on the rocks.

And then there is the abandoned baby, Kate, now a teenager who loves her parents but wants to find out who her biological parents were and how she came to be left at the airport. Each life develops in interesting directions, and over time the travelers meet and get to know one another again. Some renew their friendships, while others remain aloof. There is joy and suffering in all their lives, with mistakes as well as good choices. It culminates in tragedy, and the revelation of what really happened in Thailand in 1985. If you haven't encountered Penny Vincenzi yet, then you'll savor escaping the minutiae of daily life with Sheer Abandon.

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