14 Jun Waiting To Begin by Amanda Prowse
A teenage mistake leads to a lifetime of anguish
In 1984, Bessie Worrall wakes up on her 16th birthday, full of optimism and dreams. Today she gets the exam results that will set her on the path to her high-flying career as an air hostess, tonight her boyfriend will finally make their relationship public. Meanwhile, she has a day of fun and celebration to look forward to with her loving family and best friend Michelle.
Fast forward to 2021, and Bessie Talbot wakes up on her 53rd birthday with her usual feeling of dread. A part-time dinner lady, she lives with husband Mario in their neat little dormer bungalow, her two children having flown the nest.
What happened to 16-year-old Bessie’s hopes and dreams? How has she let happiness slip through her fingers? And is it too late to start over?
As the narrative flits back and forward between the two days, a raw and powerful story emerges of a young girl’s painful coming-of-age and the mistakes she made that continue to haunt and shape her outwardly perfect life.
This story is so relatable. Bessie is such a sympathetic character, at 16 and at 53, with a sterling cast of supporting characters in the shape of her family and friends. Funny and sad by turn, the narrative sweeps you along Bessie’s emotional roller-coaster ride, allowing you to experience all her highs and lows.
I loved the backdrop of the 1980s – the author immerses us in that period with cultural refences ranging from legwarmers to eternal bow china, Cyndi Lauper to Chelsea Girl. Anyone who remembers that era can’t fail to be empathetic to Bessie and Michelle! They’re brash, bold, loving, loyal, sweary but ultimately very vulnerable.
If Bessie could turn back time, should she go back to 1984 and do things differently? It would mean she could lose her sense of shame, keep Michelle as a friend, maybe fulfil her dreams after all – but what then of Mario and her delightful children, Jake and Natalie?
As the day of her 53rd birthday draws to a close, Bessie realises that not only can she not rewrite her past – she must be careful not to repeat its mistakes if she is finally to begin again.
I think I enjoyed this book so much because Bessie represents so many of us in regretting her choices and bearing over-weighty burdens of guilt. She’s someone we can all relate to, and if she can find the courage to move forward, it gives us permission to draw on our own strengths and do the same.
Waiting To Begin is published by Lake Union in paperback, RRP £8.99.
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