"How far can we trust anyone? Even someone we’ve fallen in love with? Even… ourselves?
Heavenly Lilies is set in 1996, soon after the horrors of the Fred and Rose West case. Sheila is on the jury of a case that’s eerily similar. As they retire to consider their verdict, Sheila knows that because of her own sexual history, she can’t make that judgement. She walks out, and flees as far away as she can: to an island off the west coast of Ireland.
As she settles into this remote and beautiful place, she encounters Colin, who’s on the run from his own demons. They make love, and Sheila discovers another self, called Shelia.
But suspicion is everywhere. Guilt, too: how could she abandon those tortured children? And questions. The local priest is full of worldly wisdom, but how has he acquired it? Can Sheila trust his judgement about Colin? Will the police drag her back to the horror of the trial?
Then her son Jack arrives, an attractive 20-year-old. Guilelessly he makes play for Nuala, the damaged local girl who Sheila sees as a mermaid. But this is dangerous ground. Nuala’s mother and grandmother are competing for possession of her, and the island’s ancient politics threaten any outsider who disturbs it.
Jack and Nuala disappear, and the search for them forces out some truth about Sheila’s quest, Nuala’s story, and Colin’s reasons for coming to the island. When the police arrive, they don’t need to arrest Sheila: she’s ready to return. But can she still love Colin? If the answer is yes, can their love survive?"
This book was not at all what I thought it was going to be from reading the back of the book, which gives a lot less away than the above description which is taken from the publisher's website. I thought it was going to be more focused on being a jury member in a high profile case, but in reality that only features at the very beginning and is the catalyst for the remainder of the book.
This book reminded me of The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan, which was long listed for the Booker Prize and won the Guardian First Book Award, but was a book that I simply could not get on with. Yes, you can tell from this blog that I do like "chick-lit" but, being a lawyer, I am perfectly capable of enjoying "intellectual reads". However, I found it hard to read Heavenly Lilies, and not only because of the subject matter. It is definitely not a book you should try and read whilst you are tired. It requires your full concentration, and despite the fact I did not love it, it deserves your full attention too because it is exceptionally well crafted.
The constant switching of perspectives is disconcerting and I sometimes found it difficult to work out whose perspective I was reading about. However, Alison Leonard has done a truly amazing job of weaving together all the threads to create a story that does work exceptionally well. It certainly is not a quick read and it requires your full patience and attention. From the other reviews on Amazon, it is clear that for people who do enjoy this type of book, this will be up there with the best.
Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.