The Sister Returns by Joanna Rees – a huge story of life in 1929 for a young women in a time of challenge and change

The Sister Returns by Joanna Rees

Drama, a dysfunctional family, pursuit across the world – this is a novel full of incident and excitement. Some characters have agendas that are dangerous to others, others pursue their interests in comparative innocence. At the centre of the narrative is the remarkable Vita, a young woman who has experienced so much in England, Paris and now America, but retains her ambitions and resilience. This is the third book in a trilogy, “The Stitch In Time Series”; the first two being “The Runaway Daughter” and “The Hidden Wife”, but as I have only encountered this final novel I can confirm that it is easy to pick up the main strands of the story. This is because each character is introduced well, with some brief accounts of what has happened before in relation to the overall story. It also helps that each character is robust and consistent in their thoughts and actions. This is the case with the major players as well as the minor characters; the way Rees draws and handles each character is admirable, summing up their motivation in a few words. This is a huge achievement in terms of narrative and drama, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The novel begins in 1929, after Vita has run away from her difficult family who run and own a Mill in Lancashire. She has been a dancer and generally had a good if scandalous time in Paris with her best friend Nancy. Vita’s escape to New York while pregnant with her son Bertie had its moments, but Nancy’s family has welcomed her into their luxurious home and lifestyle. Vita has her ambitions even if lasting love seems to have evaded her; she has taken responsibility for designing Nancy’s wedding dress. The preparations for the wedding dominate the life of most people as Nancy at last seems to be ready to finally settle down with Nate, a suitable man for the wealthy young woman. Unfortunately this is in the weeks leading up to the financial crash, and among those who have invested heavily is Vita, who has been looking to succeed in her ambitions to have her own underwear business. 

When everything goes wrong, the two young women and Bertie find themselves en route for Los Angeles, specifically for Hollywood. Nancy has ambitions to break into films as an actress, and Vita is keen to support her, especially when she gets a sense of the costumes, the sets and excitement inherent in the new and exciting movie business. Unfortunately people back in Lancashire still remember Vita in her original guise of Anna, and at least two people still feel resentment for her and are determined to take revenge and more. Her brother Clement is determined to get even, and although Edith has stolen much from her sister in law already, she becomes resolved to take action which will  damage Vita and others in so many ways. 

This is a vivid and big book in so many ways, with memorable characters and situations. It is mainly Vita’s story, but there are many others who are shown as active and resolute in their chosen paths. This is a book which features settings which are well described; New York at the height of its success and Prohibition, the beginnings of the Hollywood and the film industry, and life in Britain which is not immune from world wide events. This represents a lot of research, but there are no overwhelming passages of descriptions which would interrupt the narrative. This is an exciting book which definitely lingers in the mind, and drives onwards with fascinating details. I recommend this book and indeed this series to all those who enjoy big stories.