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Friday, 3 October 2014

FFB - The Water is Wide

The Water is Wide, Julia Bryant’s sixth novel (2005) is set in Portsea and is bound to please her fans and should gain plenty of new readers of her previous books too.  Her earlier novels have taken place after the First World War, the 1920s and during the Second World War.  This latest story covers the period 1902 to 1904.  But this isn’t simply a book about recent history in the Portsmouth area, it’s about people of that time and their struggle for happiness and even love.

The book title is taken from an old British folk song which the heroine, Fidelis, sings.  This song is also quoted in another book with the same title, the 1972 bestseller by Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides. 

When we first meet Fidelis, she’s a nineteen-year-old house-maid whose eye-catching looks resemble those of a Burne-Jones pre-Raphaelite model.  She’s on the dockside, waiting to welcome Jack, her father, home.  Jack is a no-nonsense Royal Marine drill sergeant. 

Lives can hinge on the slightest thing and Fidelis’s fate is irrevocably altered when her hat is blown into the harbour and retrieved on the orders of handsome Lieutenant Daniel Herrick, the son of a colonel.  They are both smitten and even though they come from different social backgrounds, they fall in love. 

Unfortunately, Daniel’s father would never countenance his son marrying ‘beneath’ him and Fidelis has already become engaged to her childhood friend Harry, who is still serving in India and won’t be returning to marry her for at least another year.

Harry’s parents are Fidelis’s neighbours and her family’s best friends.  Her father’s sister, Shamrock, is a stage entertainer with a heart of gold.  Fidelis’s employers, Phoebe and James Allen, were having a difficult time, it seems.  Money problems.  James was a gambler and a spendthrift, yet Phoebe was besotted with him.  Until they had to flee from creditors, leaving Fidelis without work.  Phoebe had some growing up to do and Fidelis would influence her. 

We follow the lives of Fidelis, Daniel, Harry, Jack, Shamrock and Phoebe through love, pain, aching honesty and self-serving deceit.  Several resolutions are brought about by strong-willed plucky women.

What shines through is the author’s care for her characters – even the subsidiary ones - and Julia Bryant is deeply concerned about what happens to them.  The people in this book live thanks to excellent dialogue and splendid description.  Mood and feeling are conveyed beautifully.

While heart-warming and moving in parts, this isn’t a story of happy families.  Far from it.  Clearly, it’s steeped in the real world of the time – or any time, come to that, since the human problems depicted are universal from time immemorial. 

Stories like this tend to highlight the human condition, which is in reality characterised by suffering, war, oppression, poverty, vain striving and disappointment.  You find that the desire to do good and evil are in eternal protracted conflict.  Pride and egoism are often shown to be self-destructive, while selfish desire and craving tend to blind you to the feelings of others.  And, as in the real world, obstacles have to be surmounted and the simple heroism of every-day life demands that you pick yourself up and move on. 
And that’s what Julia Bryant’s characters do.  Excellent stuff.  The Water is Wide won’t disappoint.

All her books are available as e-books. She has just completed her seventh book. Her website is

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