Sometimes the only way through darkness is to return to where it began.
Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past.
In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.
Reviews of Echoes of Family
“Marianne, the feisty protagonist in Echoes of Family, loses her mooring when an accident triggers memories of her troubled past. Lost and broken—and grappling with the demons of bipolar disorder—she has to find a way to lay that past to rest to embrace her future. As the people who love her struggle to put her back together, Marianne knows it’s her own strength and courage she needs to rely on. Marianne and her family are typical of the noble yet flawed people Claypole White is so skilled at creating.”
- Diane Chamberlain, USA Today bestselling author of Pretending to Dance
“Echoes of Family is a masterfully written novel that is both difficult to put down, and difficult to forget after the final page. In this powerful novel, Claypole White weaves that narrative that draws the reader into a personal relationship with the characters and has you rooting for them, in spite of their many flaws. This book kept my attention until all secrets were revealed in its dramatic conclusion. I look forward to many more from Claypole White."
- Sally Hepworth, bestselling author of The Things We Keep
"Barbara Claypole White has done it again—created a quirky cast of characters and then taken us along as they go on a journey through madness and out the other side. Music, England, love, loss and nature all collide in this beautiful exploration of how the echoes of our past can sometimes drown out the present. Matthew Quick fans will feel right at home.”
- Catherine McKenzie, bestselling author of Spin and Hidden
“Echoes of Family is emotional storytelling at its best, crafted, as always, with Barbara Claypole White’s signature wit and charm. Filled with riveting characters and the poignant unraveling of long buried secrets, White’s latest is both lovely and gritty, heartrending and heartwarming; a story about tragedy, resilience, and the one thing that ultimately holds us all together—family.”
- Barbara Davis, author of Summer at Hideaway Key and Love, Alice
"An extraordinary novel about one woman's journey coping with mental illness. With poignancy and humor, The Echoes of Family tells the story of a family's struggle when a beloved wife and mother slowly unravels as she faces the demons of her past to forge a road to her future. Complex characters, hope, redemption and the never-ending power of love are at the heart of this must-read novel. A perfect choice for book clubs."
– Sejal Badani, bestselling author of Trail of Broken Wings
"In Echoes of Family, White weaves an intricate page-turning story full of human failings and triumphs that has the reader rooting for all the characters. The terrible affliction of bipolar disorder, and the effects it has on sufferers and those around them, is treated with compassion and deep respect for the daily struggle to live a normal life. One for lovers of contemporary fiction.”
“White (The In-Between Hour, 2014) writes with zest, and her sensitive treatment of bipolar disorder will keep readers engaged.”
The story behind the story for Echoes of Family
My first three novels grew out of dark what if moments related to my life, but this novel came to me through a scene. One summer my family and I were visiting my childhood village in England when the opening of a story—set in the church—began playing in my mind. I saw the church ladies twittering over wedding flowers up by the altar while an elegant American woman watched from the back pew, eyes hidden by sunglasses. I felt their rising concern for the stranger and witnessed one of them dash off to fetch the vicar, who was attacking stinging nettles with a weed whacker. When he crouched down to say, “What’s brought you back after all this time, Marianne?” she replied, “I’ve come home to die.” That was all I knew.
I put the scene aside, but I was curious about this woman who talked of death although she wasn’t dying. Understanding Marianne’s thought process, however, was a challenge, and the only thing that made sense was her homing instinct. Like Marianne, I have a strong connection to my childhood village, and I’ve never reclaimed the part of my heart that lives there. I love walking into the butcher’s and hearing the owner say, “Hello, Barbara, how are you?” as if I’ve been buying his chipolatas every week. On some level this novel is about the pull of my childhood village and the sense of community that I still miss.
I was also drawn to the idea of a character who had done everything right to manage her mental illness and still everything had gone wrong. My experience from living in the trenches with mental illness is that the challenges never end. The triggers are out there, waiting. And there are always new levels of acceptance to attain.
The last piece of the story puzzle came from my fascination with music as therapy. When my son was younger, I worked hard to find something that would bring peace to his battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). We tried meditation, yoga, all the usual suspects, but once he plugged in his first electric guitar, he discovered that creating music was a natural tonic for his anxiety. By the time he’d become an intern at Nightsound Studios in Carrboro, I’d already abandoned a story about a bipolar teen and her dad, a musician who ran a small local recording studio. One evening my son came home talking about his work, and the next morning I woke up with Jade front and center in my mind. Jade was the missing piece of Marianne’s story.
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Reading Group Guide (Spoiler Alert!)
- This is a novel about an unconventional family. What do you think makes a family?
- Darius believes he should be able to solve Marianne’s problems through love, and Marianne is determined to beat her devils alone, and they both fail. What do you think the role of family should be in helping a loved one with mental illness? Do you have any experience with this, and if so, how has your family responded? Has it found balance?
- There is still shame and stigma attached to a diagnosis of mental illness, which spills over into treatments such as ECT and residential care. What did you make of Marianne’s experiences with both? Were you surprised that she had never talked openly about her manic-depressive illness?
- How much did you know about mania, depression, hallucinations, or psychotic episodes before reading this novel? Did you learn anything about schizoaffective disorder or the bipolar disorders?
- Did you make assumptions about Gabriel based on the fact that he’s a priest? What did you think of his responses to the personal tests he’s forced to navigate?
- Guilt plays an important role in the novel. Has this story made you rethink anything in your own life?
- The three female characters are each damaged, and yet they’ve responded to the challenges facing them in different ways. Why do you think this is? Do you believe that what happens in life is not always as important as how we handle it?
- EmJ feels that she’s invisible. Might she have felt differently if she’d had the support of family and friends? Does Marianne make things better or worse for her? Had you been Marianne, what would you have done?
- Different characters exhibit different kinds of heroism in the story. Who do you think the real hero is and why?
- Marianne is a woman of extreme mood swings, whereas Gabriel has learned the art of emotional detachment. Lack of emotional control creates problems for both of them and drives the plot. How much in our lives is steered by emotion? How have you learned to balance and manage strong emotions? Or do you feel that you haven’t?
- On the flip side, what is the role of reason? From the beginning, Marianne is determined to find sense where there appears to be none. Do you agree with her epiphany that there is reason in everything, even if we can find it only with hindsight?
- Marianne has worked hard to manage and control her bipolar illness, and yet still the monster returns. How does she change and grow in the story? What do you see in her future?
- What did you think about Darius? Were you rooting for him or not? How does he change and grow in the story?
- What do you think the future holds for Gabriel and Jade? (Invite me to your book club and I’ll share my thoughts!)
Please download this printer friendly version of the reading group guide Echoes of Family.