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The Forever Girl

Review

The Forever Girl

Alexander McCall Smith, a master at evoking sense of place and depth of characters, offers his readers a new locale with new faces in a genre only touched on in his dozens of prior books. In THE FOREVER GIRL, he leaves behind the throbbing Kalahari heat of Botswana where Mma Ramotswe practices the art of crime detection at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The eclectic denizens of Edinburgh, bracing the chill and fog among the splendor of old world Scotland, remain unvisited to live their amusing lives.

Here we are introduced to the ex-pats of the financial offshore money haven of Grand Cayman Island. The new cast of complex characters amass from around the world to work and play in luxury under the tropical sun in a cloistered environment of privilege. Their excessive incomes bolster the exorbitant cost of living in the isolation that comes from raising families and working on a remote desert island, approachable only by a small airline or cruise ship. It’s a very nice desert island, mind you, with country clubs and swimming pools, golf and tennis clubs, and the genteel boredom that arises from leisurely living, 24/7. The salary earners, primarily men, are hedge fund managers, bankers and accountants who drum away at their money games night and day. Their families are pampered hostages in a luxurious prison of sun, sand and palm trees.

"These gentle stories are a balm to soothe the reader after confronting the real world’s dreary headlines. And best of all, their very human conditions evoke the doubts and losses, the triumphs and victories of our personal experiences."

Amanda and her Scottish husband, David, have raised their daughter, Clover, and son Benjamin on Cayman since infancy. David is a highly paid accountant who tends the millions of dollars stashed tax free on this British-owned island, a mere dot on the map in the Caribbean, created from a mangrove swamp solely as a tax haven. Clover and Benjamin are watched after by the housekeeper, Margaret, who also prepares the family meals. Margaret’s own children still live with her family on the nearby island of Jamaica, a practice common for the hired help of the wealthy financiers who make up the amalgam of nationalities from Western Europe to North America and the Far East. David travels internationally while Amanda attends yoga classes, plays tennis and lunches at the Grand Cayman Country Club. 

George Collins, his Australian wife, Alice, and their son, James, live more modestly. Dr. Collins is a government physician from London who tends to the Caribbean working class that do not have access to the private doctors and hospitals that cater exclusively to the wealthy ex-pats.

This is a romance novel that begins with both families when their children become fast friends, and follows them and their friends from childhood through their teen years at local schools, then off to boarding schools and college. Smith writes with his usual wit and canny wisdom about relationships, but here the theme is love in all of its complexities. Love won and lost and rekindled. Love unrequited and unspoken. Each of these lives is intertwined in ways that the players cannot even imagine. And each of them learns that the lies they tell themselves can often entangle others.

THE FOREVER GIRL is a departure for this prolific writer who has fascinated readers as he philosophically meanders down pathways on ethics, treating others with respect or resolving problems in inventive ways. He stops just short of preaching, yet as you are drawn into these all-too-human characters with their foibles and doubts, you can’t help but yearn for the human race in general to sort out their messes with similar success. They are, for the most part, decent people who have their quirks, but in the end manage to treat one another with civility. These gentle stories are a balm to soothe the reader after confronting the real world’s dreary headlines. And best of all, their very human conditions evoke the doubts and losses, the triumphs and victories of our personal experiences.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on February 14, 2014

The Forever Girl
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: February 11, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • ISBN-10: 0307908259
  • ISBN-13: 9780307908254