Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

When my grandmother started moving into progressively smaller places, she had to decide what was most important for her to keep. She chose the things that mattered the most to her, that said something about who she was and the life she'd lived. As I look around my own house, I wonder what I'd let go first, what second, and what I would hold onto as forever meaningful to me, even if it looked insignificant to someone else.  This letting go and moving on with only that which is meaningful is the premise of Lucy Dillon's newest novel, A Hundred Pieces of Me.

Gina finished treatment for her breast cancer with her stalwart husband beside her. Then the two of them renovated a beautiful historic home and Gina started her own preservation business helping others to jump through all of the many and confusing hoops that the conservation folks require. Somewhere in there though, something in their marriage went sadly awry and Gina discovers that her heretofore steady husband Stuart has been having an affair. In divorcing, Stuart leaves almost all of their possessions with Gina, who is moving into a small, modern flat that is her clean slate. Taking a page out of a book her best friend Naomi gave her, Gina determines to weed things out of her life, keeping only the one hundred most important things, starting over unburdened.

Initially Gina is overwhelmed by all of her possessions and as she unpacks certain pieces conjure up memories for her. But she must purge and she even starts to take great joy in lightening herself up. The things she chooses to keep are varied and interesting in their very pedestrian nature. It is in the midst of letting go of so many of her things that she comes to acquire Buzz, an abandoned greyhound who is as fragile and in need of a new life as Gina herself is. While Gina is building that new life, she also takes on a large, time-consuming project, shepherding a dilapidated but once gracious listed home through renovations for a gorgeous and kind photographer and his high powered wife to use as a weekend getaway from London.

The novel's narrative moves back and forth in time, slowly revealing Gina's past and the tragedy in it for which she still blames herself and then unspooling her present and the ways in which she is growing and coming to embrace life and goodness. Chapters are headed with the description of an object from Gina's boxes.  Each thing she uncovers adds to her past story, that of a young Gina newly in love with first boyfriend Kit, of the Gina who wanted to know more about her father, of the Gina who lived with her difficult mother and her low-key but loving step-father, and of the Gina who married Stuart, before returning to the present and moving forward in the new life she's slowly building for herself.

The story is a charming one, thought-provoking, and full of emotion. As Gina lets go of the past, the reader too must think about how you determine what to hold onto and what to let go. The overarching theme of focusing on what is important in life, in possessions, people, and moments, is well-illustrated and threads throughout Gina's story. Gina learns, with help, to live in the moment rather than collecting it through things and to search out and find those moments that bring her joy. The characters are generally appealing, especially Gina, Nick, and Naomi, the major characters. Even Stuart is not a complete villain although Gina does come to forgive him rather easily. Some of the plot twists are a bit predictable and the ending is fairly unresolved. The conceit of Gina keeping only one hundred things is dropped fairly early on. And although Gina acknowledges that she has stopped keeping this up, it is still a shame that it wasn't carried through. The idea of a wall of Polaroid photos of the things that bring her joy, which replaces the one hundred things she's keeping, is a nice one but, on the whole, not quite as intriguing. Over all though, this is a lovely women's fiction novel, one that reminds us of the way life can change on a dime and that we are not defined by our things but by the way we live our lives and our memories and moments instead.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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