Author: Charity Norman
Charity Norman has written a beautiful novel of hope, of starting over and of hitting rock bottom before you can find your way back up. Second Chances is a novel that took its time capturing me but I think that has more to do with the fact that my week didn’t offer any opportunities to sit and immerse myself in Norman’s New Zealand paradise. Once I was in there was no coming back out though!
This novel was not what I expected and it certainly kept me guessing right through.
In the quiet of a winter’s night, the rescue helicopter is sent to airlift a five-year old boy with severe internal injuries. He’s fallen from the upstairs verandah of an isolated farmhouse, and may not last the next few hours.
At first, Finn’s fall looks like a horrible accident; after all, he’s prone to sleepwalking. Only his frantic mother, Martha McNamara, knows how it really happened. And she isn’t telling. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Martha only wants the best for her family. That’s why she moved heaven and earth to start their lives afresh on the other side of the world. And now she’s faced with decisions she never dreamed she’d have to make, decisions with potentially devastating consequences. She’s torn between her loyalty to her family and her need to protect them.
The book begins with a newspaper clipping and the story begins on the next page with Martha’s telling of Finn’s fall and from this point we move forward as well as back in time to fill in all the pieces and see the big picture.
Norman writes in the first person with Martha our protagonist. Martha who has always tried to make the best decisions for her family even though sometimes they have been the hardest.
Second Chances sees a family move from one side of the world to the other, changing hemispheres and leaving their entire lives behind. This is as fresh as a fresh start can get in the paradise of New Zealand where everything is pure but it seems that not everyone can thrive in heaven.
Settling in is quite difficult and there is an understandable period of adjustment, that’s to be expected from such a big change but some of the family adjust more easily than others. The twins fall in love and settle quite quickly, Kit finds a new vitality and rediscovers his passion for painting with so much new inspiration at his fingertips. Martha swings a bit both ways; she loves the new house, the new environment, the weather but she is extremely homesick and second guesses her decision. Teenage Sacha seems to settle in okay but the further we get into the story the more we discover about how hard Sacha found it to adjust.
Norman weaves mystery through this narrative so efficiently that trying to untangle the clues and discover the full story wasn’t as easy as I would have thought and usually I’m pretty intuitive about this sort of situation. There are some obvious scenarios and some options presented that offer different lines of speculation and then there are things that come at you out of the blue.
Addiction is addressed and explored from different perspectives. Norman describes the effects that addiction has on the family, the friends and the innocent victims left in the wake of a destructive addiction. Kit’s addiction to alcohol is a big part of the reason the McNamara’s emigrate to New Zealand in the first place but his is not the only addiction we are exposed to.
The story is told along two timelines; in the present from the moment Finn fell and from the moment Martha thinks the story truly begins, back when they were living in England and before they had any inkling what the future would hold for them. The two timelines flow quite well together, both moving forward to that point where they join.
In the present Martha is sitting beside Finn’s bed, willing him to be well and scared that he will never be the same. This is when we get inside her head and know there is more to the fall but never enough to decipher what it was. We sit alongside her as she is interviewed by police, hospital staff and the social worker going through the process of a child protection investigation – a feeling that would turn the stomach of any parent who has ever had to take their child to the emergency ward in circumstances that could be construed as suspicious.
Alongside this is the story of the McNamaras; the events that led them to the move, the relocation and the settling in through the year they are in New Zealand. We meet their neighbours, their school friends and work colleagues, all friendly characters vital to the story. They add a depth to the narrative, a new layer of understanding that may have been lacking and help join some pieces.
A facet of the story that I found particularly enthralling is the way New Zealand’s mythology is so beautifully included in the story. The tales of the earlier generations of how the rocks came to be, and how places got their names. I’m not sure if these are all accurate Maori mythology or if they are products of Normans imagination but they are beautifully told and well placed in the story.
I found Charity Norman’s second novel Second Chances to be as heart warming as it was heart breaking, an emotional rollercoaster that kept you thinking until all the pieces fell into place.