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Separate Beds by Elizabeth Buchan
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Separate Beds (edition 2010)

by Elizabeth Buchan

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Title:Separate Beds
Authors:Elizabeth Buchan
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Separate Beds: A Novel by Elizabeth Buchan

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Elizabeth Buchan’s writing gets better and better. She sympathetically captures the seismic shifts that occurred over the course of a marriage and in a family. Annie and Tom undergo more troubles and disruption than most couples will ever (thankfully) face—their oldest daughter cuts herself off from the family and they have had no contact for five years, Tom loses his much-loved, well-paid job and finds his identity shattered, their son finds himself in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle while his business is failing and on it goes. Perhaps the troubles are too dramatic and over-the-top. It is as if Buchan puts each person in this family under tremendous pressure, shakes them up and then observes their reactions. Annie is almost too sympathetically described but she is clearly the emotional heart of the family. The ending was a bit too neat but still I enjoyed watching as the family fell apart and reassembled with new understanding and newly discovered individual strength. ( )
  kellyn | Jun 9, 2011 |
Annie and Tom share a house in London, but not a bed. Ever since their eldest daughter, Mia, huffed out five years previous with radical boyfriend in tow, things have never been the same. Annie blames Tom; Tom immerses himself his job with the BBC; neither is willing to bridge the ever widening gap. But their silent domain is about to get a lot noisier. Tom loses his job and seems to have nothing to do but putter around the house lamenting his bad luck. Youngest daughter, Emily, lives upstairs while she attempts (unsuccessfully) to write a novel. Then Tom’s outspoken mother, Hermione, moves in when the funds to pay for care at the nursing home dry up. And when son, Jake, finds himself without a wife and solely responsible for his young daughter, he shows up on Tom and Annie’s doorstep seeking refuge. With all the bedrooms taken up, Tom is forced to move back into the spousal bedroom…and confront the separation head on.

Elizabeth Buchan’s latest novel once again explores middle-age relationships, as well as parenting, with humor and insight into how love changes over time, especially if it is not nurtured. Emily, perhaps, best captures the sadness which accompanies estrangement when she muses that love “had nothing to do with reason and everything to do with mayhem, which left you sad and damaged.” But, although the book takes a hard look at love, it also allows for redemption and healing.

Another major theme of the novel revolves around the recent economic crisis and the loss of security and stability. All the characters are dealing with loss of some sort, and the economic crash is symbolic of the fear and insecurity that comes with loss.

I didn’t love the characters in Separate Beds – Tom was whiney, Annie almost too pulled together, Jake was weak, and Emily came off as a bit of a spoiled brat. But I did enjoy Hermione – a fiercely independent woman who must now depend on others as her health declines.

Through the glass, she appeared more diminished than he remembered from the last visit. When he was small, she had always been whippet thin, but strong, and a Turkish cigarette would have been in evidence when she played her cards (smoked fastidiously down to the stub). – from Separate Beds, page 71 -

The novel is not without its flaws – namely the glacially slow pace of the plot. Buchan includes the minutest of details of the Nicholson family’s lives and depends on their daily interactions with each other to carry the story. Most of the characters are unhappy or struggling with the changes in their lives, but inertia seems to claim them all – mostly they internalize their struggles and remain coldly polite with each other. There were times in the novel I wanted to see more emotion.

I thoroughly enjoyed Buchan’s previous novel Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, so I was surprised I did not love Separate Beds, which left me oddly unsatisfied at its conclusion. That said, I think this is a novel which will appeal to women in their middle years who may see themselves in Annie, a competent woman who struggles to balance her role as wife and mother, and wonders why she is not happier. ( )
  writestuff | Apr 1, 2011 |
To outsiders, Annie and Tom are a middle-aged couple who appear to have it all. Tom works for the BBC World Service and Annie is an Admin manager at a nearby hospital. They have a nice house, three grown up children, two of which are no longer at home. They are, however, a couple in crisis. Tom and Annie have been sleeping in separate beds for a while, ever since unnamed dramatic circumstances years before had resulted in their oldest daughter leaving the house and severing all ties with her family. No-one in the family speaks of the circumstances and the underlying resentment and blame game continues to simmer and influence their present life. Then it all changes in an instant.

Tom comes home and announces that he has been made redundant and that their financial situation will be very dire without severe cutbacks. Their youngest daughter Emily is told they can no longer support her and she has to find a job; Tom’s elderly mother has to move in with them as they can no longer affords to keep her in her nursing home; and then their son Jake is abandoned by his wife and returns home with his one year old daughter. Tom and Annie now have a full house and have to share a bedroom again. Can they survive with four generations under one roof? Can they build bridges over the past and grab another chance at happiness if it is at all possible?

Elizabeth Buchan knows what it is like to be an older woman in a youth focused world. SEPARATE BEDS is a book to settle down and really enjoy, it is clever and perceptive fiction, with completely believable situations. This is a snapshot on the life of a real family dealing with true-to-life problems which have affected many other families. It is not all happiness and fluff, but it is not all doom and gloom either, there are failures, there are successes, there are many bad times to get through before better ones can start. ( )
  sally906 | Mar 16, 2011 |
Another terrific read from Buchan, who captures the 21st century zeitgeist in smoothly engaging prose. Driven to distraction by late-adolescent children; saying the unforgivable to those we most love; recognizing what's really of value and with that finding the strength to set our feet firmly on a new path; finding the bedrooms our children have so recently departed abruptly re-filling; "acting as if" until we find ourselves truly embracing the circumstances; losing a job, spouse, friends or life; admitting mistakes and saying "I'm sorry" - serious stuff that Buchan blends skillfully to a restorative conclusion. ( )
  amac121212 | Feb 16, 2011 |
Elizabeth Buchan is one of my very favorite authors. She outdid herself with this book. Every character came to life ---- so many painful things kept happening that I kept waiting for when we would reach bottom with all of the troubles this family had to contend with! I love her descriptions of the surroundings and of the emotional dialogue---with their words and actions---of the family members. It's a terrific book. ( )
  nyiper | Feb 14, 2011 |
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Tom and Annie's kids have grown up, the mortgage is do-able, and they're about to get a gorgeous new, state-of-the-art French stove. Life is good- or so it seems. Beneath the veneer of professional success and domestic security, their marriage is crumbling, eaten away by years of resentment, loneliness, and the fall out from the estrangement of their daughter, and they've settled into simply being two strangers living under the same roof. Until the economy falls apart. Suddenly the dull but oddly comfortable predictability of their lives is upended by financial calamity-Tom loses his job, their son returns home, and Tom's mother moves in with them. As their world shrinks, Tom and Annie are forced closer together, and the chaos around them threatens to sweep away their bitterness and frustration, refreshing and possibly restoring the love that had been lying beneath all along. In Separate Beds, Elizabeth Buchan has captured the concerns and joys of contemporary women, and her timely, warm, and funny novel tracks the ebb and flow of family, fortune, and love that is familiar to so many readers.
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Hiding the truth about their crumbling marriage beneath a veneer of professional success and domestic security, Tom and Annie Nicholson face more difficulties when the economic crisis causes Tom to lose his job and two family members to move in.

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