Click here to read reviewer Carey Anderson's take on The Diary.
When Emily and Sarah sort through their mother’s things as they prepare for her imminent death, they are surprised to find a diary she kept during the time she and their father courted. The Diary by Eileen Goudge is a beautifully written study of relationships and the repercussions of learning about a hidden past.
Finding the diary is a surprise, but its contents are sometimes shocking. The girls have lived their lives believing they knew everything there was to know – or that they wanted to know - about their parents’ relationship. Their father died the previous year, and now they have the sad task of preparing for their mother to follow him. But the diary reveals that Elizabeth Marshall may not have married the love of her life.
Through its pages, Emily and Sarah discover a past hidden from them, a past that includes two young men who vied for Elizabeth’s hand. On the verge of being betrothed to handsome, accomplished Bob, it seemed her heart belonged to devil-may-care AJ, whose prospects were less than glowing. Somewhat wild and disreputable, AJ fascinates Elizabeth in a way staid, solid-citizen Bob isn’t able to.
When Elizabeth admits she was with AJ the night of a suspicious fire for which he is a suspect, her reputation is soiled, maybe permanently. Her life continues in turmoil as she and both men are affected by society’s whims.
Emily and Sarah find themselves surprised, shocked, and moved by their mother’s choices and the course of her life. They find that learning the truth about their parents’ history has a profound effect on their own lives.
The Diary is a novel of deeply drawn characters and tangled emotions. It is steeped in its era – the 1950s and ‘60s – and the mores of that time. The only problem with the style – if it really is a problem – is the fully articulated, precisely-described scenes, including character emotions and dialogue, that come from the pages of a diary. The third-person omniscient observer apparently supplies that information. The two girls get a lot more detail than can be gleaned from the pages of a diary. However, the detail is welcome as the reader experiences the story.
The characters are well-developed and three-dimensional. Goudge’s writing is engaging; I had no trouble imagining that world of decades ago. Sometimes a bit slow, Goudge doesn't rush it to any conclusion or assumption but takes the time to develop the characters, in their world, with all their shortcomings. I do not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who wants to get lost in an intriguing love story.