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Turn to the West by Sara Seale

Turn to the West by Sara Seale
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This could have been a much happier, sweeter story than it was. Instead, it’s a rather cold, half-hearted romance, with a sad “twist” at the end that absolutely could have been avoided.

Gina, 20, is a “model” – not the kind of glamorous model you might think of from the blurb, but a shop assistant in a department store, who also has to wear/model the clothes sold by the store. They only seem to wear one outfit each day though, it’s not like those old movies when the store models walk about in endless glamorous gowns in front of rich buyers.

Giles Griffin, 38, is the new managing director (and owner) of Griffin Stores. He starts up a rather slow, lukewarm relationship with Gina from the outset. Just as it appears to be getting somewhere, he gets a spoilt little rich-ish girl, Vivien, a job at the store. She’s a constantly stirring bitch with designs on Giles, and even though Giles apparently knows this, he never has Gina’s back even when Vivien causes her all sorts of mischief. We later learn that he thought she had the makings of a good wife in her, but not apparently as his wife. So why all the favours?

Gina desperately needs to keep her job as her mother, Fanny, is an invalid. What happens is that Fanny gets sicker and sicker, and we eventually find out she has angina not just asthma, and she dies on the penultimate page. It would have been so much easier and so much sweeter to keep the poor dame alive until the wedding – she knows Giles’ intentions, at least – so she could enjoy that, or at least go on for a bit longer. Frankly the way she is disposed of is more bitter than bittersweet. It felt unnecessary.

All in all this book could simply have been so much more fun. Gina has some spirit, but despite her “prank” at the start, shows very little sense of humour. Giles seems very emotionless: not restrained, just simply as though there isn’t much there. He’s also a terrible manager in terms of fostering harmony and collaboration among his staff.

Also disappointingly, there’s little rapport between Gina and the other shop girls, I found it odd that they never seemed to hang out together. Gina has literally no friends except some poor bloke in the “Radio” department (which sells TV sets and records – this is 1953) with whom she does nothing but “play the gramophone and discuss music”.

Gina’s mother Fanny also appears to have no friends or relations, this is apparently because she’s too poor to entertain. The only people they did know, a couple called the Tregillises, couldn’t afford to keep up the big house they lived in (which Giles now owns) and sold it after their only son, Michael (who might have married Gina), died. It’s mentioned at one time that Gina thinks her mother’s marriage was a disappointment because her father was “so wrapped up in his music”, and Fanny herself reveals:

Her own marriage had been so prosaic, so empty of the things that really mattered to her

So there’s Fanny, stuck in an isolated moorland cottage, widowed and impoverished after her disappointing marriage, too ill to even write the magazine stories by which she was scraping a living, seeing hardly anyone except her daughter about whom she spends all her time worrying, and finally, just as her daughter is set to marry a nice rich man, she dies alone – “she went without a struggle”.

I felt quite depressed after finishing this book. I’m even more depressed after revisiting it to write this review.