WHEN PAST AND PRESENT COLLIDE

When two distinguished guests are invited to a special ceremony, they will be meeting for the first time in three decades. In fact, neither of the two knows for sure that the other will be there.

In the beginning moments of the book, we meet one of them who is at a different event, presenting an award-winning book. We see that she is used to the spotlight—she is even boldly dressed and seems confident in her place at the podium. This woman is Ailsa Kelman and she seems created for public life.

Then we focus on the other one—Humphrey Clark—who is traveling toward the event on a train. He seems plagued by all kinds of physical manifestations of his anxiety about the event, although he seems convinced that he is coming down with a cold. But then he realizes that nostalgia may be at play.

Over the next few chapters, we then see these characters as they reflect on the past, on the childhood summers in England’s North Sea area, in the town where the special event will be held. Ailsa and Humphrey actually only spent one summer together in that town, along with Ailsa’s brother and another child, Sandy Clegg; as each character reminisces, we see quite divergent experiences from each person’s perspective.

Later in the book, we realize that their paths actually crossed again a few years later, when they were in their twenties. Something surprising happens between them, an event that few people know about.

We travel with these characters through their memories and also follow their moments toward the final ceremony, where much is revealed. Surprising secrets are unveiled.

Throughout the book, I enjoyed some of the stories and nostalgic moments. But sometimes these reflections went on so long that I was bored with the tedium of the past. I enjoyed most of Ailsa’s reflections, but Humphrey’s memories seemed laced with boring descriptions of scientific experiments. Perhaps these experiences were a mirror of his persona, which might explain the tedium. I did not like this character, and only minimally enjoyed Ailsa.

In fact, The Sea Lady felt like a long journey I had to get through, perhaps like the journey the characters were taking toward their ceremonial destination.

I probably would have abandoned the book at some point, except that I was curious. So, while I didn’t really enjoy most of it, I kept plugging along. For this reason, I will give the book a 3.5 starred review.

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