The Way Back by Jamie Fewery: Compelling, sometimes tear-jerking story of self-discovery - book review -

A dying father’s last wish sends his three estranged children on a rollercoaster journey that will either bring them together… or confirm the break-up of a once-close family.

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 2:26 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 2:28 pm
The Way Back
The Way Back

A dying father’s last wish sends his three estranged children on a rollercoaster journey that will either bring them together… or confirm the break-up of a once-close family.

Sibling relationships and family dynamics come under close scrutiny in an enchanting, acutely perceptive and emotional story from author, journalist and copywriter Jamie Fewery whose debut novel, Our Life in a Day, was acclaimed as the perfect love story.

In The Way Back, Fewery turns his sharp eye on the complexities of family life as builder Gerry Cadogan makes a last desperate attempt to heal the rifts and bury the ghosts that have torn apart his three warring grown-up children.

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Forced to travel to Scotland together in their dad’s old camper van and scatter his ashes on a remote Hebridean island, secrets, bitter recriminations, and a replay of their earlier years will bring painful memories for the siblings… but maybe, just maybe, help them to finally become a family again.

The three Cadogan children – florist Jess, teacher Kirsty and painter and decorator Patrick – haven’t spoken to each other for three years. An argument after their mother Sue’s death four years ago was the latest excuse to blame one another for their family’s troubles which stretch back almost a decade.

Consequently, each of them is taken aback when they learn that their father, Gerry, who lived in Brighton and has recently died from cancer, left instructions that his ashes are to be scattered on the beach at Port Ellen on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides.

And even worse for the siblings, they must make the journey together in his old camper van, taking with them his old fishing tackle box containing three photo albums through which they can explore their past, and a bottle of single malt whisky which he had been saving for the 70th birthday he never reached.

For Patrick, it’s an ordeal because he hasn’t yet told his sisters that his wife Suzanne has left him for another man and he is now single parent to their four-year-old daughter. Jess, who is married with two children, doesn’t want to admit that both her marriage and her career are a disappointment, and single mother Kirsty suffers from low self-esteem and blames her siblings and parents for the dissatisfaction with her life.

Feeling ‘more like colleagues than family,’ the Cadogans must confront the most agonising moments in their shared history, attempt to lay to rest a ghost who has haunted them for years – and rediscover the bonds that once tied them together so firmly.

For a story that hinges on the death of a parent, The Way Back is a warm, compassionate and life-affirming story full of wise observations about what it means to be part of a family, and the kind of wryly funny wrangling that is the hallmark of sibling relationships.

Through flashbacks – prompted by Gerry’s carefully selected photo albums – the Cadogan children revisit holidays and events that have all left their mark on family history. And as secrets, anxieties, losses and unresolved grievances begin to surface, Patrick, Kirsty and Jess are compelled to come to terms with both the past and the present.

But what gives this compelling, sometimes tear-jerking story of self-discovery its extra fire-power is Fewery’s intuitive wisdom when it comes to family drama, and his gift for authentic dialogue and character portrayal which turn a journey of self-discovery into a moving and beautifully redemptive experience.

(Orion, paperback, £8.99)