What would you do if you found out that your husband, your father, your son - was not who you thought? Could you ever love him again?
Luke Livingstone is a lucky man. He's a respected solicitor, a father and grandfather, a pillar of the community. He has a loving wife and an idyllic home in the Oxfordshire countryside. Yet Luke is struggling with an unbearable secret, and it's threatening to destroy him.
All his life, Luke has hidden the truth about himself and his identity. It's a truth so fundamental that it will shatter his family, rock his community and leave him outcast. But Luke has nowhere left to run, and to continue living, he must become the person - the woman - he knows himself to be, whatever the cost.
The New Woman by Charity Norman was published in the UK by Atlantic on 23 July 2015, and is the author's fourth novel. Her previous books are: Freeing Grace (March 2012), After The Fall (January 2013) and The Son in Law (March 2014).
I'm not sure why or how I've missed Charity Norman's books in the past, but after reading The New Woman, I have now bought all three of her back catalogue and if The New Woman is anything to go by, then I'm in for a real treat.
Luke Livingstone and his wife Eilish are due to celebrate thirty years of marriage. They've had their heartbreaks over the years and losing their baby daughter Charlotte left a huge scar on their hearts. However, they have raised Kate and Simon to be strong, successful independent adults. They are content and happy, wealthy, have a wide circle of friends and enjoy their careers. Their marriage is viewed by friends and colleagues as a strong and most loving relationship.
So why, at the beginning of the story has Luke decided that he must commit suicide? Why has he prepared letters to his family, and made sure that all his paperwork is in order? Luke has a secret that consumes him, and has consumed his whole life since he was a very small boy. He can see no way to continue as the happily-married, professional man, father of two, beloved Grandpa and pillar of society. A chance meeting on a train on the very day that is supposed to be his last changes his mind, and from there on Luke will turn lives upside down. He will shatter everyone's version of reality, he will open a box that can never be closed. He will have regrets, he will lose friendships, and love, but he will, at last, be the person that he knows he always was.
The New Woman is one of those books that challenges and changes views. Gender dysmorphia is a subject that I knew nothing about before I picked up this book, but after reading, I honestly feel as though I have taken Luke's journey with him. Charity Norman writes with such emotional honesty, with such apparent ease and authenticity. She explores the feelings of not just Luke, but those that know him and love him so very very well. The pain experienced by his wife Eilish reverberates through the story, his son Simon's anger is fierce and heartbreaking, his daughter Kate's deliberate and brave determination to try to understand and accept Luke's new life - all of these are wonderfully drawn.
As Luke becomes Lucia and she learns that she is not alone and there are other people out there like her, Charity Norman introduces some beautiful characters, not least Lucia's closest friends; the sad and beautiful Chloe who is desperate to be loved. The indefatigable Judi, his work colleague who is accepting and encouraging. There are small players throughout this story, characters without names, but people who make such a difference to Lucia. The young man in the shop who smiles and calls her Ma'am, the Big Issue seller ... There are also the people who mock, who refuse to understand, who are cruel and uncaring. The GP, the men in the car .... each and every one of these people together make up this truly beautifully captured story.
The level of research that the author must have done for this book shines through and she has detailed the pain and distress so incredibly well. The range of emotions experienced by both Lucia and her loved ones is vast and so well developed. I did find myself becoming really emotionally involved with the characters throughout the book, they are so realistic, they captured me and kept me hostage right up until the very last.
The New Woman is a book that I've already raved about to friends, and I will continue to recommend it to everyone that I meet. The characters are still occupying a corner of my head, and I think they may stay there, and I hope that they will enable me to try to understand the complexities of our human race, and to accept that we are all human regardless of how we look or sound.
My thanks to the publisher and to RealReaders who sent my copy for review.
Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham.
After several years’ travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law in the northeast of England.
Also a mediator, she is passionate about the power of communication to slice through the knots. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand.
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Follow her on Twitter @CharityNorman1