Spilt Milk by Amanda Hodgkinson
A couple of years ago everyone at Parry Sound Books read Amanda Hodgkinson’s first novel 22 Britannia Road, and all of us, of all ages, loved it.
When I picked up Amanda Hodgkinson’s recently published second novel Spilt Milk I was a little apprehensive, worried it might not be as good as her first – but my concern was quickly put aside, along with everything else I should have been doing, as I lost myself in this captivating novel.
Spilt Milk begins in the early 1900s as we meet three women living together in a house on the banks of a river in southern England - Rose, Nellie and Vivian. Before her death Rose asked sisters Nellie and Vivian to stay together forever. Well, as we all know, time has a habit of changing lives and this is a promise that cannot be kept. Nellie and Vivian, after sharing a tragic secret while still living together, are separated by both this shared secret and the course of the Second World War. They each make separate lives in the post war years as the men return from Europe and time moves on.
This is a difficult novel to review without giving away some of what makes it so wonderful – not knowing what comes next. Ultimately Spilt Milk is about women’s lives, those who bear children and those who do not. It is about the secrets that are kept, for better or for worse. We are forced to think about whether it is better to face the truth or never to know it. While the truth may not be easy to live with, what one imagines is often worse. And as these characters discover the secret is always there – its presence always felt – if not acknowledged. When we are young things are so very black and white, but the longer we live the more we can understand and accept, and perhaps forgive, those who kept secrets thinking only to protect us from hurt.
“Don’t cry over spilt milk” is an expression many of us use, as did our mothers and grandmothers – perhaps meaning don’t look back, get on with things. Is it such good advice? Or would we be better off crying – and then getting on with life. The past never really leaves us, not does it leave Nellie and Vivian in this novel full of secrets. As one woman understands “some secrets are not to be shared” while there are others that when revealed can help heal a long held hurt. There are women in this novel who carried such regret throughout their lives because of decisions made, and secrets kept. I can hear this discussion among book clubs everywhere – and I am sure Spilt Milk will be on all the book club lists this year.
This is a novel you’ll want to pass on to all your female friends – sorry guys I’m not sure this one crosses over the gender divide. And if you’ve not yet read 22 Britannia Road it’s another one not to miss.