Summary and book reviews of Becoming Strangers by Louise Dean

Becoming Strangers

by Louise Dean

Becoming Strangers
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 320 pages

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Book Summary

Two couples meet in a luxurious Caribbean resort - one pair older, the other younger. As their paths cross during the week, each couple struggles with what has been keeping them apart.

After more than half a century of marriage, Dorothy and George are embarking on their first journey abroad together. Three decades younger, Jan and Annemieke are taking their last, as illness and incompatibility bring their unhappy union to an end. At first the luxury of a Caribbean resort is no match for the well-worn patterns of domestic life. Then the couples' paths cross, and a series of surprises ensues-a disappearance and an assault, most dramatically, but also a teapot tempest of passions, slights, misunderstandings, and small awakenings that punctuate a week in which each pair struggles to come to terms with what's been keeping them apart.

A hit with readers and critics alike when it was published in England in 2005, Becoming Strangers is a different kind of love story, in which there's seldom a happy ending but sometimes a chance to redeem a life half-lived.

1

Before he'd had cancer he'd been bored with life. Since he'd taken dying seriously, he'd been busy; he was occupied with understanding the disease and training his body to resist it. How hardy he was, physically. Six years of operations and excisions, starting with his chest, then the cancerous cells had metastasized to his lungs and on to his liver. A suite of initial excisions revealed each encampment to be partially malignant. He'd insisted on warfare. Each time the doctors told him and his family the chances of recovery were poor and the recurrence of cancer a likelihood. Year after year a fresh crop of cells emerged, excisions followed and he lived. The knife-and-forking of his body seemed to give a perverse impetus to his will to survive.

His tenacious hold on life was partly begotten by the conviction that his life must have accrued some value over time. What about all the sights and sounds recorded, all those thoughts tracked? They must be worth ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Becoming Strangers is a notably assured, engaging, and perceptive debut novel about two married European couples on holiday in the Caribbean. In telling their separate and combined stories, in revealing their backgrounds and orchestrating their interactions, Louise Dean has crafted a “delicately powerful [and] impressive” account (Sunday Times, UK).

After more than half a century of marriage, Dorothy and George are embarking on their first journey abroad together. Three decades younger, Jan and Annemieke are meanwhile taking their last, as illness and incompatibility bring their unhappy union to an end. Initially, the luxury of an island resort is no match for the well-worn patterns of domestic life. Then the couples’ ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Dean's ability to portray the tragic-comedy of everyday lives with empathic but laser-sharp wit sets Becoming Strangers way above most first novels, and presages a wonderful future for this talented author.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (334 words).

Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle - Patricia Conover

Dean writes as a poet, creating sinewy phrases with seeming effortlessness. At times, her sheer talent takes one's breath away in its rigorous complexity and lyrical dazzle.

Kirkus Reviews

Dean's grasp of the material is shaky and her voice erratic.

Booklist - Mary Ellen Quinn

The novel might have sunk under the weight of its themes of loss, but Dean suffuses it with a comic touch and handles her several narrative threads with skill. Give this to readers who enjoy thoughtful character-centered fiction.

Publisher's Weekly

A book that is poignant, often funny and unexpectedly redemptive.

The Guardian

Louise Dean has her wicked yet empathetic eye, her ear for pathos, and her almost supernatural talent for observing and measuring the comedy and tragedy of ordinary, heartfelt lives.

The Economist - Fiammetta Rocco

After reading more than 50,000 pages of fiction (as one of the judges of the Man Booker Prize), I take away an introduction to two or three immense new talents I had not known before, and a clear memory of reading what was to become my favourite sentence: "The South African pulled his short shorts back up from around his ankles and positioned his genitals gamely inside the fishing-net interior".

The Independent - Jonathan Myerson

This is the sort of book that makes you want immediately to go back to page one and start again. The entire story is perfectly balanced, with each sin weighed against a kindness, each act of selfishness underpinned by a deeply-held belief.

The Times - Fiona Hook

Louise Dean is biblically prodigal with the sharp soundbite, casually sowing them into her text without waiting to see if they yield a harvest reaction.

The Sunday Times - Alex Clark

"Nothing makes you good, not even the life we want can do that, not even success." But that realisation, Dean suggests, may provide the briefest of opportunities to rectify matters, and her impressive, unsentimental and unshowy novel shows how that process might be begun.

Reader Reviews

pointereader

Characters Big, Action Small
I picked this up for its setting--the Caribbean--because I was headed there. It was a good enough beach read: interesting characters, several lovely passages, some deep thought (nothing too strenuous), but I kept feeling like I'd already read the "...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Louise Dean was born in 1970 and brought up in Kent.  She received a BA Hons in History from Downing College, Cambridge in 1991.  After spending time in Hong Kong and New York, she is now married with three children and splits her time between France and England.

Becoming Strangers is her first novel.  It was long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize, and was the only title to be voted onto the long-list unanimously by all judges. It was also a finalist for The Guardian Best First Novel Award and won the Betty Trask prize (...

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