Book review: Catching the Tide by Judith Lennox

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From the hedonism of 1930s London high society to the perils of wartime Italy, here is a sweeping, swirling saga to knock you off your feet.

Lancaster University graduate Judith Lennox has always put family relationships at the heart of her warm and wise novels, and Catching the Tide explores the ties that bind together two very different sisters.

It’s an epic and heart-searching journey that takes us across Europe, through life-changing historical events and into the brave and bewildering new world of the post-war era.

As in all good novels, we experience the high drama of secrets, betrayal, passion and tragedy but Lennox also gives us large helpings of insight, compassion, truth and the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

In 1933, sisters Tessa and Frederica Nicolson enjoy one last idyllic summer with their mother and family friends at the beautiful Villa Millefiore overlooking Florence.

For unconventional and impulsive older sister Tessa, there is the heady and later painful awakening of a first love but four years later, Italy is a distant memory and she is revelling in the glamour and excitement of fashion modelling in London.

Sister Freddie is still cloistered in her countryside boarding school when beautiful Tessa, who still believes love is just a game, launches into a passionate affair with married author Milo Rycroft.

The doomed romance ends in tragedy and heartbroken Tessa returns to the sunshine of Florence to forget her past and forge a new future.

Meanwhile, the more conventional Freddie has left school and desperately misses her sister. Fearless and determined, she travels alone to the increasingly alien Italy where Mussolini has joined forces with Nazi Germany.

Freddie is soon swept up in adventure, danger and romance and makes a chance encounter that will change her life.

But with the outbreak of World War Two, the sisters must fight for their own survival and happiness, while they wonder whether they will ever see each other again...

Tessa and Freddie are two unforgettable characters ... carefully drawn and cleverly developed, their lives and their fates become inextricably caught up in the volatile mid 20th century period.

That the reader cares so deeply about what happens to them is a tribute to the storytelling skills of an author with her finger on the pulse of high emotion and the complexities of real life.

Catching the Tide is Lennox at her best...

(Headline Review, paperback, £7.99)