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Sheer Abandon: A Novel
by Penny Vincenzi

Published: 2007-05-08
Hardcover : 640 pages
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A number-one bestseller from one of Britain’s most popular novelists, Sheer Abandon is an all-consuming story revolving around the consequences of a desperate act . . .

Martha, Clio, and Jocasta meet by chance at Heathrow airport in 1985 as they are starting off on separate ...

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Introduction

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A number-one bestseller from one of Britain’s most popular novelists, Sheer Abandon is an all-consuming story revolving around the consequences of a desperate act . . .

Martha, Clio, and Jocasta meet by chance at Heathrow airport in 1985 as they are starting off on separate backpacking adventures, and they decide to spend the first few days of their trips together in Thailand. When they go their separate ways, they vow to get together in London the following year. But many years pass before the three cross paths again, and the once-capricious, carefree girls now all have thriving careers. One of them, however, harbors a terrible secret: On her return from her pre-college excursion, she abandoned her just-born daughter at Heathrow.

Clio has fulfilled her ambition of becoming a doctor, only to find herself trapped in a marriage to an arrogant surgeon who belittles her and her professional achievements. Martha is a highly paid corporate lawyer, just embarking on a political career. Dedicated to her job, she has had little time for personal relationships and lives a busy, but lonely life. Jocasta, a tabloid newspaper reporter with an infallible instinct for the big story, is in love with a charming colleague who can’t make the permanent commitment she longs for. The infant abandoned at Heathrow has grown up under the loving care of her adoptive family. Now a beautiful teenager named Kate, she sets out to find her birth mother—a quest that unexpectedly brings the women together and exposes the secret buried so many years before.

Impossible to put down, Sheer Abandon is top-notch women’s fiction.

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Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

1. We join Martha, Jocasta, and Clio at Heathrow Airport a year before a baby is born to, and abandoned by, one of them. And then get to know them a little better in the early chapters. Purely on the basis of their personalities, which of them seemed the most likely to have done something so shocking and wretched; and why?

2. Did you guess correctly? Did you spot the qualities that made such a course of action possible? And if you were wrong, what specific things misled you?

3. Did you sympathise with the woman who abandoned her baby? What would drive someone to such desperate actions? Can you imagine a situation or a time in your life when you might have done something equally devastating? Can anyone (mother or child) ever recover from such an event?

4. In England in the 1980s it was fairly common children from well-to-do families to spend a year travelling the world between high school and college. Discuss your own experiences of travel during that period in your life. How did travel change you? Would you allow your teenage daughter to travel alone to Bangkok and the Far East in this day and age?

5. Female friendships can be very complex. What do you suppose drove Martha, Clio and Jocasta apart? Have you lost touch with a friend and re-connected with that person later in life?

6. English politics, an essential ingredient of the book in the struggle for power are very idiosyncratic; the personal politics of several of the characters could well be described as equally so. Yet the less ambitious characters, e.g. Helen, Kate’s adoptive mother, and Nat, her boyfriend, have been declared some of the more multi dimensional characters in the book. Would you agree with this and if so why?

7. It could be argued either that Jocasta acted completely against her own character, in marrying Gideon Keeble; or that it was in absolute accord with her desire for love and security. Which do you think?

8. Kate is deeply distressed by the loss of Martha, when she had spent her whole life railing against her. Why do you think this is?

9. Vincenzi describes several marriages in Sheer Abandon: Helen and Jim Tarrant, Jocasta and Gideon Keeble, Clio and Jeremy Graves, Grace and Peter Hartley, Beatrice and Josh Forbes. How does each couple deal with strains on their relationship? What factors help dictate whether these marriages endure or fall apart?

10. Martha, Clio, and Jocasta all struggle to balance a successful career with their relationships with family, friends, and significant others. How does each character prioritize her life? Do you know women facing similar difficulties?

11. How does the book address the struggle for an adopted child, like Kate, to come to terms with her parentage? Who does she ultimately consider to be her “real” mother? How does her relationship with Jim differ from her relationship with her biological father?

12. Did you enjoy the experience of reading Sheer Abandon? How fast did you read it? What kept you hooked?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

I get the ideas for most of my books either from those long conversations you have sitting over a glass of wine (or several glasses of wine) putting the world to right or from something in the media; in this case it was a story in a magazine about a baby that had been abandoned in a hospital doorway. The authorities were appealing for the mother to come forward, but after four days there was still no trace of her. And I thought: why on earth, in this day and age, should anyone feel they had to do that? And then I got that tingling down my spine that means “this is a great plot!”

So this is a story about an abandoned baby; about what might drive you to do such a thing and how you would feel about it for the rest of your life; and about what it might be like to be that baby, growing up, knowing she had been abandoned, but with no idea by whom or why.

First of all I had to do my research, which was absolutely fascinating; I talked to many people, a few who had been abandoned, more who had been adopted at birth and had no idea who their real mothers were. They were all absolutely obsessed with finding out what had happened and why, and somehow getting into contact with their mothers, or at least learning what she had been like. To have no roots is a terrible thing; for most of us it’s something we take for granted, but as Kate, the abandoned baby and now a teenager in the book said “My mother might be Madonna or she might be the woman who cleans the toilets” and she simply has to find out for herself.

The book begins with three girls, Jocasta, Clio and Martha, going off backpacking in Thailand in 1986; a year later we discover one of them—we don’t know which—has given birth to a baby girl at Heathrow Airport and left her in a cleaning room. Fast forward fourteen years and Kate, now a beautiful girl, happily adopted, sets out to find her birth mother; the first half is taken up with that process and in following the fortune of the three girls—no longer in touch with one another—as slowly and painfully Kate’s sad origins are uncovered. The second half is about the fallout from that; the emotional and practical consequences of committing what is, after all a crime, as well as a desperate act.

The book has many layers: Jocasta is a reporter on a tabloid newspaper with a commitment-phobe of a boyfriend; Clio is a doctor with an arrogant surgeon as a husband; and Martha is on her own, absolutely committed to her career as a high-flying lawyer. And the story cuts backwards and forwards in time, returning every so often to the girls’ travels in Thailand as their secrets are slowly revealed.

The sub-plots—a disastrous marriage, a gut-wrenching love affair, a zoom into super model stardom for Kate, a foray into politics for Martha—are all as important as the main story, providing insight as they do into all the characters’ lives and personalities; and I think I’m brave enough to stick my neck out and say I defy anyone to read the last page without it blurring before their tear-filled eyes.

I do so hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Good summer read"by WPLWBC (see profile) 09/29/08

A quick paced, light summer read. There is a myriad of subplots, some of which could have easily been used as a basis of another stand-alone novel. Conflicts within the book were resolved with predictable... (read more)

 
  "We did not like this book."by tnbobi (see profile) 09/17/08

For the first comment, the book is way too long. She could have said all in about half of the pages. We thought the climax of the book would have been the announcement of the mother of the baby. No, there... (read more)

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