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“Marching off the map” with The Atlas of Us

5th August 2014

The Atlas of Us by Tracy Buchanan, romance novel set in Exmoor and Thailand, and other locations.

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The book itself on its travels

A confection of chapters that will take you around the world, from Exmoor to Thailand, Australia, Serbia, Dubai, San Francisco and Finland (from the Q&A with the author at the back of the book, this was her favourite location).

Two stories dovetail as lives collide and interweave, from the late 20th century to the last days of 2004.It is a difficult novel to review without giving away too much (so despite, or because of what I write you will just have to go out and buy it and see for yourself how the story evolves!).

Louise has struggled pretty much all her life with being, to all intents and purposes, abandoned by her Mother, Nora, who was permanently on the search for a life without bourgeois ties, an artist and free spirit. Early on in the book Louise discovers that her Mother in all likelihood had decamped to Thailand and was on one of the islands at the time of the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. Louise determines to fly out to Thailand to try and discover what may have happened to her.

Claire is a travel journalist, who eventually finds her wings after a life riven with pitfalls. She is following in her Father’s footsteps, writing as she goes and it was he who encouraged her to ‘march off the map’. Things for her change drastically – again early on in the book – when she witnesses a shooting at a wedding venue, she is in the middle of a break-up with her partner and her life veers off on a totally unanticipated path. She becomes involved with one family, whose young daughter tugs on her heartstrings and their mutual fondness fills a deep emotional hole in Claire, who is unable to have children of her own. Claire has to deal with heartfelt situations and it is clear that the author’s own experience (mentioned at the back of the book) is coming through.

The stories of Louise and Claire come together and gradually there are dawning revelations just how intertwined their lives and those of their loved ones have become.

For us at TripFiction, the wonderful locations were like finding ourselves in a sweet shop, as the story lines move swiftly from one locale to another, all beautifully rendered. It is so evident that the author is a travel editor, as she pinpoints with real dexterity the different feel of the chosen locations – from the deep red earth of Uluru in Australia, to war torn Serbia and the exoticism of Thailand. As the characters move around, each place essentially has at least one chapter devoted to it and it is clear the author is really familiar with her choice of destination and has clearly done a lot of research. For me the book had a feel of a set of short stories with a couple of leitmotivs winding their way through to unify them, skimming the surface; there are times when the reader gets lost in the current story;  it can feel a little disruptive when it is time to move on to another character in another time and setting. And if there was one small weakness it would be the coincidences of encounters between the characters, in order to keep the story moving, that felt a little contrived.

The Boxing Day Tsunami comes to horrific life and underpins the narrative of family, loss, and hope. The author also ventures into Serbia at the time of war and to an animal rescue centre – Buchanan certainly does not shy away from tackling difficult themes.  An electric and consuming romance develops, and at the heart of the story is a book full of mementoes that one lover gives to another, and that is the Atlas of Us – their joint experiences and journeys both actual and emotional.

This is one of the hot Summer reads of 2014 and a wonderful way to travel the world. And I can’t finish without mentioning the terrific and exotic book cover, which is sure to entice the reader to purchase (it also appears on our Pinterest Board: “Book Covers that caught our eye” click here to see the covers we have chosen so far – which covers would you add?).

Tina for the TripFiction Team

To find out more about the book, click here. And do come and join TripFiction on TwitterFacebook and Pinterest and when we have some interesting photos we can sometimes be found over on Instagram too.

 

 

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