Zoe Miller’s Rival Passions is set in the Wicklow countryside outside Dublin. Serena and Jack Devlin are twins, running the family business, the luxury retreat hotel of Tamarisk. But Serena’s marriage is suffering due to her devotion to her work, and Jack is coming to terms with tragedy. Their mother Charlotte has her own memories and regrets, while trying to build a new life, and best friend Kim is hiding a secret.
Rival Passions has all the ingredients for an absorbing family saga-style tale. Secrets, past and present, family problems, a luxurious setting and lifestyle. Yet it doesn’t instantly suck you in as other authors in this style do, Penny Vincenzi and Douglas Kennedy being examples who spring to mind. Rival Passions is a considerably shorter novel than theirs tend to be, which shouldn’t matter, but I suppose the length does narrow the scope somewhat. As a result, contrary to appearances, Rival Passions is not the saga you would expect from Vincenzi and Kennedy, but a much simpler story, despite featuring sections set in the past.
It took me a while to become properly interested in what was happening to the characters. I couldn’t engage with them – they seemed slightly flat, and even the hidden secrets hinted at from the outset did not give them much depth. For some reason I found their rich lifestyles off-putting, and the luxury seemed slightly forced rather than flowing naturally as part of the characters and setting – not a problem I usually have when reading about rich characters.
The story itself does have a few different strands to it, and isn’t simply linear. We hear from all four main characters as third person narrators, and all of them have their secrets which take time to be revealed. I was worried for a while that these secrets would never be fully revealed, something which is incredibly frustrating in novels, but fortunately the secrets of Rival Passions were revealed, although Miller waited quite late to get to the bottom of everything.
This is all sounding rather negative, but overall I did quite enjoy Rival Passions. It has its faults, and it is by no means an absorbing read, but it is generally enjoyable, a pleasant lightweight read which was perfect for a lazy weekend. Rival Passions is one of those books which is quite difficult to sum up – I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but on the other hand I wouldn’t want to dissuade anyone from giving it a go.
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