Bestselling author Eileen Goudge is back with a delightful new novel. The Diary has the same degree of emotion and suspense that you expect from Goudge, but it feels a bit lighter. Many of the dark elements from Goudge’s other works are not as prevalent. It is a sweet story with a nice degree of suspense.
The Diary begins with two sisters discovering their mother’s diary from 1951. The women are packing up their mother’s belongings when they make the discovery. Their mother, Elizabeth Marshall, has suffered a massive stroke, and her prognosis is bleak. As a result, her daughters are selling her house and preparing themselves for her death. They begin reading the diary out of curiosity and discover an unknown side of their mother.
Elizabeth’s diary begins with a chance meeting with an old classmate, AJ. At the time, Elizabeth is 20 years old and in a stable relationship with Bob. Everyone in their small Nebraska town believes an engagement is imminent for them. When Elizabeth reconnects with AJ, she realizes that she likes Bob, but she doesn’t love him. Elizabeth and AJ grow closer, even though their relationship would be considered highly improper by Elizabeth’s social circle. In many ways, AJ is the opposite of Bob. He is daring and impulsive, while Bob is stable and predictable. When AJ is accused of setting fire to a barn, Elizabeth is the only person that can clear him. AJ doesn’t want her to come forward because it will ruin her reputation. Elizabeth breaks up with Bob and decides to go to the authorities anyway. AJ is released, but Elizabeth faces ostracism from her social circle. AJ leaves town and resumes his work as a traveling caricature artist. They meet again in December, but that is where the diary ends. Elizabeth’s daughters realize that AJ may have been the love of her life, rather than their father. They know that their mother married Bob Marshall in December 1951, but there are gaps in the story. They want to know more about AJ, but the diary doesn’t even give his last name. The mystery is solved when Bob Miller, an old friend from Nebraska, talks to them after Elizabeth’s memorial service. I won’t spoil the ending, but the twist is great. Goudge provides a satisfying conclusion.
The Diary is very touching. Goudge captures the intensity of young love and Elizabeth’s confusion about her future very well. The novel never sinks into a sappy romance. It maintains a high, yet enjoyable level of intensity. Goudge also captures small-town life beautifully. Elizabeth’s pain when her best friend turns on her is almost palpable.
Goudge uses setting in an interesting way throughout The Diary. Elizabeth’s diary recounts a brief period of life in her hometown of Emory, Nebraska. Emory is a small town where appearances matter. Elizabeth learns just how important the appearance of propriety is after she reveals the truth about AJ’s whereabouts during the fire. The setting helps define Elizabeth and AJ’s relationship. Ironically, Goudge keeps the modern setting a mystery. This helps add to the suspense about what finally happened between Elizabeth and AJ.
The characters in The Diary are well-crafted. Goudge has a surprisingly complex protagonist in Elizabeth. At first she seems like a simple small town beauty, but she develops into a brave and somewhat conflicted young woman. Goudge does not spend as much time developing the male characters, but she makes every moment in the development of AJ count. His traumatic childhood continues to shape his life. He is a suspect in the barn fire primarily because of his past. Goudge makes the stable, loving Bob rather blah. He’s quite likeable, but a bit dull. I would have liked to have seen more of Elizabeth’s mother. She comes across as rather shallow, but her mother reveals key details that shaped her character. It turns out that Elizabeth doesn’t know her mother as well as she thinks.
The Diary is
primarily a love story, but
it also encompasses other familial relationships. The
relationship between mothers and
daughters is a key element. Just as
Elizabeth realized that she didn’t know much about her own mother,
daughters discover that they didn’t really know their own mother. This is a delightful book.
It’s perfect for Mother’s Day.
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