Walking Back To Happiness by Lucy Dillon
Berkley Publishing Group/Penguin, 2011
Reviewer: Sheri De Grom
Walking Back To Happiness by Lucy Dillon met none of my criteria for buying a book, yet I fell into the proverbial situation of finding it in the stack of eight selections I was buying at my local bookstore.
I should have known I’d buy books if I stopped at the new books display near the front door. My rules for selecting books include three critical elements: 1) never select a book based on cover art, 2) never buy a book based on blurbs and the back cover write-up, and 3) never buy a book I haven’t read the first and a middle chapter.
But, heaven didn’t help me when I picked up Walking Back To Happiness. First, there’s a sad-eyed looking dog on the cover with his leash in his mouth. I couldn’t possibly put that down. Second—the blurbs and the back cover would have cinched the deal if the sad-eyed dog hadn’t already pawed his way into my animal- loving heart. There was no use arguing with myself about reading my required number of pages. I’d time, I just hadn’t done it.
I read as I walked to the car. I had to see if I’d made the correct decision in buying Walking Back To Happiness. It didn’t matter that I was toting seven other new books—and three in the car that I was already reading—I had to know about this sad dog and who was going to walk him. I did tell you I’m a sucker for animals, didn’t I?
I soon met Juliet Falconer and her Jack Russell-ish terrier, Minton. Minton actually belonged to Ben, Juliet’s late husband who’d died eight months earlier of a heart attack.
Minton had always been Ben’s dog, despite the fact that Juliet fed him, cleaned up after him, and pried the socks out of his mouth. He had gone to work with Ben and kept up with Ben’s long strides. Now, though, sometimes she wondered who was looking after whom. But on one thing Juliet and Minton both agreed. Neither wanted to go anywhere, see anyone and specifically talk to no one. . .not even to each other.
It seemed everyone—including Juliet’s mother, sister, neighbors, the people in the small English village where she lived and Ben’s former clients—had determined that Juliet was much too young at 31 to be a widow. They decided it was their job to get her out of the house and into the daylight. And, what about poor Minton? He was just a young lad. He needed to run and play, they said. Minton didn’t think so. He hid his ball.
Diane, Juliet’s mother, filled there frigerator with food but Juliet had been a caterer for ten years. The last thing she wanted was food. Her mother was convinced Juliet would fade away but Juliet wanted to live on Kit Kats and reminded her mother that after ten years of baking, she doubted if she’d fade away.
Louise, Juliet’s sister, conspired with their mother that Juliet should keep Coco, the mother’s chocolate Lab two to three days a week while mother takes care of Louise’s toddler, Tobby. Louise is going back to work after eighteen months of maternity leave. Louise doesn’t really care if the baby is around Coco but if Juliet takes care of Coco that means Juliet will have to leave her house during the day to walk her—Coco’s elderly and her bladder wouldn’t hold all day.
The sister relationship carries a strong sub-plot that intertwines with Juliet trying to come to terms with Ben’s death.
Louise, an attorney, only goes back to work after eighteen months because she’s bored staying at home and only talking about baby things. She’s lost her real identity. She’s lost interest in her husband and he no longer interacts with her either—except to talk about their child. Louise knows she was once an interesting person—what happened to her?
Pg. 60-61 [Louise felt as if she were floating above herself . . . I’ve changed, she thought, But when? . . . At what moment did I go from someone who spends thousands on ‘an investment sofa’ to someone who spends thousands on baby clothes that last days? At what moment did my desire for this very desirable man drain away, leaving just the shell of the loving wife he still sees? Was it sudden, or slow? . . .
Louise’s legal mind could pinpoint the exact moment when her whole world had tilted and began the awful slide into secrets and doubts. Lies and behavior that she couldn’t believe were hers. It was the day her sister phoned and told her that Ben had dropped dead of a heart attack.”] . . .
That was also the same day that Juliet’s world changed forever, but Louise didn’t equate their worlds. The sisters that had been so close suddenly moved far apart in their relationship.
Juliet and Ben had planned to start work on their house at the time he’d died, but had they really? They’d just had a huge fight and as Ben had left for work the morning he’d died, Juliet had been saying terrible things to him. She’d accused him of never wanting to grow up. How could she possibly get on with major renovations of their home now? And how could she consider it her house when it had always been their house? Life was not fair.
Her next door neighbor Lorcan appeared, well—he was just staying with the next door neighbors and happened to be a contractor (wasn’t that handy)—and Juliet’s mom and dad made it possible for Lorcan to work on Juliet’s house when he wasn’t out on jobs. Juliet didn’t much like the idea but Lorcan kept locating the very pricy items she and Ben had planned to use in their renovations.
Juliet rather liked the cat sitting. She made sure she had enough time to stay with the cats and carry on conversations plus play with them and brush their hair. She found it amazing, the things you could find out about a person just from feeding their pets.
Pg. 199 . . . [“Juliet had read the chapter about new relationships in all her bereavement guides with a sense of detachment, because she couldn’t actively imagine starting a new relationship. It was like seeing St. Paul’s Cathedral flattened in front of you and then being handed the plans to rebuild it.”] . . .
Pg. 199 . . . [“But even in her still-numb state, she felt a small tingle of excitement that someone was asking her out. Excitement and nerves and a nostalgic fear that she hadn’t felt since she was a teenager, although Mark was no teenager—he was an adult, with complicated domestic arrangements, and an air of attractive competence that she couldn’t help warming to.”] . . .
Secrets build in this novel. The mother suddenly has a new hairstyle with highlights and stylish new glasses. Is there a spring in her step? Louise’s husband continues to invite her on date nights. What’s wrong that his loving wife has disappeared and avoids his every advance? And, Juliet, she’s positively happy and glowing all at the same time.
It seems every character in Walking Back To Happiness faces huge internal tension and there’s plenty of the external stuff to go around to satisfy picky readers. Minton nearly loses his life over his own internal tension. How can you pass up a read where the dog starts out watching daytime television with his mistress and is at the vet the following New Year’s Eve because his unresolved grief and sorrow had to be acted upon immediately?
I thought this novel might be a light read—I took my chances. I found two sisters, each with a broken heart, entangled with the same man, although they didn’t know it at the time, and one of them was even calling him by the wrong name because she met him while walking his dog.
Walking Back To Happiness had numerous thought provoking passages and others that made me laugh out loud.