For three American women, a brief, summer vacation in London becomes an unexpected journey of self-awareness for which there is no return ticket. Lesley, Margo, and Julia are childhood friends from a small Missouri town who seem to have little in common. Despite very different backgrounds and temperaments, they form bonds that withstand coming of age in the tumultuous 1960s, college, marriage, kids, divorce, geography, time, and mutual neglect. Neglect is inevitable when three people inhabit their own worlds whose orbits, without assistance, do not overlap. Julia is an art historian cum interior designer in Manhattan, Margo is a workaholic school teacher in Chicago, and Lesley is a polished society matron in St. Louis. Lesley is the force that keeps the trio from becoming a mere memory: Her tireless and self-consciously unobtrusive efforts maintain the status quo. None of the threesome exactly wears herself out with self-analysis, but readers are given enough objective details and realistically random inner thoughts to do it for them. What these women need is a vacation . . . from their routine, from their work, from their families, and from themselves. The opportunity presents itself after a bizarre act of violence in Margo's classroom gives Lesley an excuse to consolidate forces and flee. Julia agrees to go if she can call it a business trip and keep the sightseeing and smothering camaraderie to a minimum, and Margo agrees to go if her surly, teenage daughter can come, too. London's most prestigious bed and breakfast awaits, promising to be the ideal base from which to start anew. No one, including the worldly-wise guest house proprietor, remotely guesses how literally this idea will be realized.
The proprietor is one Mrs. Smith-Porter elegant, understated, and solitary. Unlike her three guests, she seems well-acquainted with her own motivations and is given, in her more advanced stage of life, to reflect upon her experiences with unsentimental insight. Rebirth is a notion she is intimately familiar with, having twice recreated her own image after finding her former ones less than satisfactory. Tantalizing descriptions of sightseeing tours and fancy teas ensue, expected pleasantries that are soon interrupted by the unexpected: the disappearance of one of the travelers, the appearance of an ex-husband with a shocking companion, the initiation of Julia into the shady, yet romantic world of stolen antiques, the mishap that temporarily deprives London's best B&andB of its mistress to name a few.
The outcomes of these labor pains leave no one unaffected. The rebirth of certain characters is a vicarious thrill for those of us with vested interest in second chances. Instead of just enduring life, these women transform it. Author Richard Peck may be best known for his many young adult novels, but London Holiday, his fourth novel for adults, is further proof that he is as accurate an observer of older hearts as he is of less experienced ones.
Reviewed by Joanna Brichetto.