The Long Shadow

Sheila Fields - The Long Shadow (working cover)
Language: 
English

A review of the coming novel...

This captivating novel centres around three generations of the dysfunctional Marshall family. Each of the characters from the second generation strive hungrily for success to the detriment of others and do, indeed, achieve vast accomplishments. But they also take a catastrophic tumble when fate and/or divine retribution intervenes and takes penance for their wrong-doings.
 
The story begins with the staunchly catholic matriarch that is Nellie Marshall, mother of ten sons whose one hope is her youngest son, Keith. Having pinned all her hopes on him becoming ‘the next pope’ Nellie Marshall commits suicide when, after a period of training in a seminary, Keith turns his back on the priesthood to become an architect. With his mother gone, Keith disowns the rest of his family apart from his much respected Uncle Henry who acts as his mentor, confidante and father figure. With his studies funded by an anonymous benefactor, Keith has little to worry about during his five years studying at Manchester and becomes more worldly-wise. He also demonstrates his humanitarian side when he teaches his landlady’s daughter, Belinda, to read and write. He embarks on a lengthy relationship with her and she is smitten with his intellect and good looks and their affair continues during Keith’s marriage to Marjory, his childhood sweetheart. 
 
Sheila fields the Long Shadow - car at a manor
 
Keith becomes a highly acclaimed architect and somewhat of a celebrity and when he is knighted it seems he has reached the pinnacle of his life. Tragedy strikes however when Keith’s only son Christopher dies in a car accident and Keith’s reaction is to disappear for several years. Upon his return he rejects fame and fortune and tries to repent by helping people less fortunate than himself. 
 
Next we are drawn into the cold, self-obsessed world of Scarlet, a young volatile girl who is the great niece of Nellie Marshall and loves anything red. Scarlet is attracted to married men because she is incapable of sustaining a normal healthy relationship. After going into a wool painting business with her friend Tipsy, Scarlet’s true personality is revealed and she is left to run the company herself. Unlike any other character, Scarlet is the common thread which appears in each of the remaining characters’ stories and it is fascinating to discover the impact she has on them all and the difference in people’s perceptions of her, particularly the different genders.
 
Sad, deluded Martin is the focus of the next chapter and he is the grandson of Nellie Marshall and the son of Luke. Martin speaks to himself in the mirror, finds himself irresistible, is a bit of a mummy’s boy, has some callous and forthright opinions and has only one friend in his life – Ivor, his boss’s son. Martin is also a shallow character who, like Scarlet, is desperate for success so when their worlds collide at the office Christmas party, they embark on a lengthy relationship which, as in Keith’s story, continues during his marriage to Liz.
 
From these central characters there are also chapters which concentrate on Ivor’s family, including his successful father Harry and his rather mysterious mother Rianne. When Ivor decides to discover his mother’s roots in Indonesia, there is a marvellous chapter which depicts the intriguing couple of months he spent there with Scarlet and his story is given a most fitting conclusion when he returns to open an academy for the arts near Jakarta, funded by his father’s business contacts.
 
sheila Fields The Long shadow - Indonesia
The chapter which reveals Liz as Martin’s wife brings another entertaining aspect to the story and their bitter warring makes for superb reading. Perhaps the most poignant part of the story of their love-hate relationship is the fact that Liz never married again after Martin’s death because she never stopped loving him.
 
Although the stories of the Marshall family are all linked in some way, the all-knowing narrator gives an excellent portrayal of each of their lives. Each character has their own strong traits yet their paths are subtly similar with their common desire for success and the calamitous failure which inevitably follows.
The stories change with almost each chapter and this keeps the story flowing well. Meanwhile, the reader has to try and work out where each character sits within the family tree before the eventual revelation further in the chapter. The brief introduction and conclusion from the characters of Ben and Jack are a very appropriate way of setting the scene for the story.
 
The book has a magical blend of irony, pathos and wit which gives it such wonderful appeal. The chronological plot offers a powerful insight into the difficulties of living during Nellie Marshall’s era where times were hard and religion played a major part in their lives, as well as Martin’s distinctly different life of luxury and financial comfort.

Curious? Read the preview! Click following link to download the first 15 pages of the Long Shadow