Margaret Forster has a gift for bring characters to life. Within a mere few pages you feel a connection and an understanding.
In Isa and May we meet Isamay, who can thank the amalgamation of her grandmothers' names Isabelle and May for her unusual name. Isamay is an unusual young woman, in that she is seriously devoted to her family. She has a deep connection with both her grandmothers. Her parents have, each for their own reasons, distanced themselves from their mothers. It is Isamay who maintains the relationship between these generations. The grandmothers could not have been more different from one another. May is working class and brash and has no time for those who speak posh or put on airs. Isabelle is gentile and stylish and has very definite opinions on the proper way to conduct one's life.
Isamay has inherited her looks and her temperament from both women. As the story unfolds we come to question what is nature versus what is nurture. Isamay has a tenacious and insatiable curiosity that serves her well in her academic career, but could prove tragic in her own life. She pursues an MA in Women's Studies with a thesis which examines the relationship between grandmothers and granddaughters. As she explores other famous grandmothers (Queen Victoria, George Sand, Elizabeth Fry and others) she draws parallels with her own experience.
The family is ticking along in its own comfortable pattern only to be disturbed by a couple of pesky Canadian genealogists. Distant cousins bring with them evidence of a previously unknown relative which leaves grandmother Isa deeply disturbed and Isamay is overwhelmed with curiosity. Add to this mix Isamay's live-in boyfriend, who, in contrast to Isamay, has turned his back on his family and refuses to acknowledge their very existence. Such secrets prove to be to much for curious Isamay who pursues the truth to the point of potentially destroying relationships.
If you enjoy character driven novels exploring family relationships you might also try:
Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler - "On the surface, Beck, as she is known to the Davitch clan, is outgoing, joyous, a natural celebrator. Giving parties is, after all, her vocation—something she slipped into even before finishing college, when Joe Davitch spotted her at an engagement party in his family’s crumbling nineteenth-century Baltimore row house, where giving parties was the family business. What caught his fancy was that she seemed to be having such a wonderful time. Soon this large-spirited older man, a divorcé with three little girls, swept her into his orbit, and before she knew it she was embracing his extended family plus a child of their own, and hosting endless parties in the ornate, high-ceilinged rooms of The Open Arms. Now, some thirty years later, after presiding over a disastrous family picnic, Rebecca is caught un-awares by the question of who she really is. How she answers it—how she tries to recover her girlhood self, that dignified grownup she had once been—is the story told in this beguiling, funny, and deeply moving novel " - publisher
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan- "Ruth Young and her widowed mother, LuLing, have always had a tumultuous relationship. Now, before she succumbs to forgetfulness, LuLing gives Ruth some of her writings, which reveal a side of LuLing that Ruth has never known. . . .In a remote mountain village where ghosts and tradition rule, LuLing grows up in the care of her mute Precious Auntie as the family endures a curse laid upon a relative known as the bonesetter. When headstrong LuLing rejects the marriage proposal of the coffinmaker, a shocking series of events are set in motion–all of which lead back to Ruth and LuLing in modern San Francisco. The truth that Ruth learns from her mother’s past will forever change her perception of family, love, and forgiveness." - publisher
The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble - "When circumstances compel her to start over late in her life, Candida Wilton moves from a beautiful Georgian house in lovely Suffolk to a two-room, walk-up flat in a run-down building in central London--and begins to pour her soul into a diary. Candida is not exactly destitute. So, is the move perversity, she wonders, a survival test, or is she punishing herself? How will she adjust to this shabby, menacing, but curiously appealing city? What can happen, at her age, to change her life?
In a voice that is pitch-perfect, Candida describes her health club, her social circle, and her attempts at risk-taking in her new life. She begins friendships of sorts with other women-widowed, divorced, never married, women straddled between generations. And then there is a surprise pension-fund windfall . . .
A beautifully rendered story, this is Margaret Drabble at her novelistic best." - publisher