Rachael Johns’ most recent novels tackle a range of contemporary and complex issues. Her latest release is no different. My expectations around her books have probably grown over recent years and thankfully she’s giving readers consistently strong characters, interesting plots and challenging us to ponder our own attitudes and beliefs a little as well.
Just One Wish offers up three generations of women. All relatable and very very different.
Just One Wish
by Rachael Johns
Published by Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd
Genres: Women's Fiction
Alice has always been a trailblazer as a scientist, activist, and mother. She knew her choices would involve sacrifices, but now, on the eve of her eightieth birthday, she's beginning to wonder if she's sacrificed too much.
Alice's daughter Sappho rebelled against her unconventional upbringing, choosing to marry young and embrace life as a homemaker, but her status as a domestic goddess has recently taken a surprising turn.
Ged has always been the peacemaker between her grandmother and mother. A tenacious journalist she knows what she wants in life and love, yet when everything in her world starts falling apart, she begins to question whether she really knows anyone at all.
At a crossroads in each of their lives, Alice, Sappho and Ged embark on a celebratory trip together, but instead of bringing them closer, the holiday sparks life-changing consequences and lifts the lid on a fifty-year secret.
Can Ged rescue her family if their story is built on a betrayal?
Geraldine (Ged) and Alice are delightful characters. Sappho (who calls herself Marie) is less likeable, but on purpose as we’ve bonded with her mother and daughter, both of whom are very very different to the woman who brands herself as a domestic goddess.
Alice turns eighty as the book opens and invites Ged and Sappho on an Elvis-themed cruise to celebrate. It’s a short cruise – thankfully – and very out of character for Alice, but Ged soon learns her grandmother (Gralice she calls her) has an ulterior motive.
Alice has pursued her career, with her daughter Sappho her only distraction. She’s a fervent feminist and passionate about social justice, possibly to the detriment of her relationship with Sappho, who’s promoting the resurgence of domestic arts (cooking, cleaning and being the perfect wife and mother) via a web and YouTube presence. And here Johns again ensures her work reflects contemporary society with Sappho and her assistant Rosa planning their lives – and that of Sappho’s family – around social media and Sappho’s online persona (@TheHappyHappyHousewife).
Ged is a journalist and keen to write her grandmother’s story. It’s one Alice shares begrudgingly as it means long-kept secrets will be revealed. And of course – as the backcover blurb indicates – all three of our lead characters are at significant turning points in their lives and holding onto more recent secrets.
I’ve only been on one cruise and it was predominantly to see my niece who was performing on the ship. I enjoyed it more than I expected however and felt a smidge of cruise-envy when the women spent several days (devoid of responsibility) onboard. Though I REALLY couldn’t listen to Elvis non-stop. Or… you know, at all. But Johns gives us that sense of unreality that cruising can offer – an escape from our everyday lives. And even though the cruise itself doesn’t culminate in anything drastic, it’s sets the scene for what comes next.
I really liked Ged. Johns does an excellent job of placing readers in her world. In her head. And though the book kinda features the three generations of women, it’s essentially through Ged’s eyes that events unfold. Alice, of course, is feisty and an absolute delight and it’s easy to see why Ged’s smitten with her. Sappho is a complex character and I was slightly depressed to discover she was only three years older than me as I’d pretty much bonded with Ged by the time we met her mother. Damn this ageing business!!!
But by offering all three generations I think Johns gives a vast array of readers relatable characters.
There’s an underlying theme around acceptance and change (obviously) and the paths our lives take. In some ways we’re reminded that our decisions can have huge repercussions, but perhaps things work out as they should anyway. There’s also a slightly melancholy reminder that we don’t always get what we want, or that we can’t really ‘have it all’, despite the rhetoric that suggests we can.
I pondered whether this was a tad longer than it needed to be (at almost 500 pages), but either way, it is a great read. There’s some discussion around the #MeToo movement, elder abuse and assisted dying. Again it’ll be popular with bookclubs as there’s a lot of topical fodder for discussion and some moral dilemmas thrown in to get readers thinking.
Just One Wish by Rachael Johns will be published in Australia by HQ Fiction and available from 21 October 2019.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.