REVIEW: Living in the Past by Jane Lovering
Do you ever wish you could turn back time?
Grace Nicholls has a few reasons for wanting to turn back the clock … although an archaeological dig at a Bronze Age settlement on the Yorkshire moors is not what she had in mind. But encouraged by her best friend Tabitha, that’s exactly where she finds herself.
Professor Duncan McDonald is the site director and his earnest pursuit of digging up the past makes him appear distant and unreachable. But when a woman on the site goes missing, it seems that his own past might be coming back to haunt him once again.
As they dig deeper, Duncan and Grace get more than they bargained for – and come to realise that the past is much closer than either of them ever imagined …
Dear Ms. Lovering,
It’s back to Yorkshire again with your latest book. I’ll have to be honest and admit that after reading about the endless rain that Grace, Duncan and the others deal with at the dig site, I might pass on a visit except during the months that Duncan protests that they actually do see a bit of the sun.
Both Grace and Duncan are living in the past for various reasons. Two years ago, Grace lost her husband to cancer. Jamie was the love of her life and together they were supposed to live to a ripe old age, surrounded by children and grandchildren. Instead Grace lived through two years of him dying. Though she’s been surrounded by supporting friends and coworkers, she realizes that Jamie wouldn’t have wanted her to live in endless grief. In flux after selling their flat and with time before returning to the school room, she gives in to a friend’s helpful persistence – otherwise known as nagging – and agrees to volunteer at a Bronze Age dig site in Yorkshire. Who knew the degree of mud that would be involved?
Duncan readily admits that he’s a crabbit bastard at times, running his archeology dig sites with both bark and bite. He’s good at what he does though so students put up with him. Those students are frankly in awe of Grace for gently standing up to him and actually getting a slight smile or two out of him. It’s Grace to whom Duncan reveals his past after a young dig student disappears and the local police arrive to grill him. Fifteen years ago, Duncan’s girlfriend stormed out onto the dales and vanished. Since then, and after the police couldn’t pin murder on him as they so obviously and desperately wanted to, every nearby crime involving a young woman brings on more questioning.
Despite her initial thoughts on how appallingly muddy the dig site and diggers are, Grace finds herself actually enjoying her shifts of wet sieving. She does wonder about the strangely dressed people she’s seen just beyond the site. Are they re-enactors or from a cult and why does Duncan deny all knowledge of who they are? It’s only after he goes with her to check them out and Grace discovers all trace of them has vanished do things get weird. How are they related to the dig and what impact will they have? Are Grace and Duncan going to risk probing past emotions and reveal to each other what is holding them back from beginning new relationships? Can the past be laid to rest for everyone?
I had read a bit about the book beyond the blurb so I knew going into it what the big secret is. First though, there’s a lot to deal with for Grace and Duncan. I couldn’t help but picture Juliet Stevenson’s role in “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” Grace’s grief, her longing for her lost love and her, yes, anger at him dying was so poignant. Her emotions have kept relationships at bay while she’s lived in a fog to avoid the pain of Jamie’s death. It’s only with Duncan that she admits some of the darker feelings she’s kept bottled inside.
Duncan lives in constant worry due to his girlfriend’s unexplained disappearance. The local police are determined to pin something on him and he knows that other people always have that >I>little bit of doubt – did he..? could he have …? He was frantic to find her when she vanished and has been haunted by not knowing her fate but after living under a cloud of suspicion for fifteen years, the mental load on his shoulders is unbearable.
The Big Secret turns out to be my least favorite part of the book. I can understand finding fulfillment and a purpose but still find it hard to believe such a choice would be made. Then it was never made clear how it happened and to whom it happened. Also the continued ease of passage began to seem more like a quick trip to the Shop’n’Save for a bottle of milk and a pack of cigarettes.
Grace’s announcement that she might know what happened to Anya and her willingness to risk her life to prove it astounds Duncan. His acceptance of her confession about her emotions means a burden she can finally let go of. But even all this doesn’t clear a straight and easy path to moving on with their relationship. They were under a load of strain and it does take time to begin to work through it. I appreciated that this wasn’t rushed nor was it painless and it is their prickly-at-times relationship that made the book for me. B