The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
It is early evening when Hope Tantry arrives at the small cottage in England’s pastoral Lake District where her mother, Ally, spent the last years of her life. Ally—one of a close-knit group of women who called themselves “The Wednesday Sisters”—had used the cottage as a writer’s retreat while she worked on her unpublished biography of Beatrix Potter, yet Hope knows nearly nothing about her mother’s time there. Traveling with Hope are friends Julie and Anna Page, two other daughters of “The Wednesday Sisters,” who offer to help Hope sort through her mother’s personal effects. Yet what Hope finds will reveal a tangled family history—one steeped in Lake District lore.
Tucked away in a hidden drawer, Hope finds a stack of Ally’s old notebooks, all written in a mysterious code. As she, Julie, and Anna Page try to decipher Ally’s writings—the reason for their encryption, their possible connection to the Potter manuscript—they are forced to confront their own personal struggles: Hope’s doubts about her marriage, Julie’s grief over losing her twin sister, Anna Page’s fear of commitment in relationships. And as the real reason for Ally’s stay in England comes to light, Hope, Julie, and Anna Page reach a new understanding about the enduring bonds of family, the unwavering strength of love, and the inescapable pull of the past.
I had never read Clayton before but the blurb for this book appealed to me. Although I hadn’t read the first book, The Wednesday Sisters, I decided to read this one.
It took me a while to get into the story; we get the perspective of multiple characters and I found the head hopping to be jarring. There was little or no warning given when the POV changed mid-chapter and I often had to go back and re-read to figure out whose head we were in. The story is also disjointed at first as Clayton hops around quite a bit, laying the groundwork.
Gradually, most of the rough edges smoothed out and Clayton gives us a moving and philosophical look at family, love, loyalty, bonds of family and of friendship, secrets, and expectations. She also examines the questions how our past influences our present, how well we can ever really know someone, and the different faces we present to other people, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. “The Wednesday Daughters” is a character driven story with romances and hints of romances in the story.
Clayton weaves into the stories the story of children’s author Beatrix Potter. She figures largely into the story and despite being dead is a vibrant presence. I enjoyed learning more about her and Clayton did an excellent job of using Potter’s life to illustrate and highlight the contemporary characters.
Although the story got off to a slow start and the head-hopping was confusing (and I normally don’t have a problem with head hopping), the story picks up and by about halfway through I was hooked. I had to keep reading and see how events resolved. There were times I found myself wishing I’d read the first book but you can read this as a stand-alone and enjoy it.
The Wednesday Daughters is occasionally disjointed but it’s also a complex, sweet, heartfelt look story about family and friendship.
THE WEDNESDAY DAUGHTERS by Meg Waite Clayton/Ballantine/July 16