Isa & May by Margaret Forster

While Isamay is working on her dissertation about the importance of grandmothers in history, she can’t help thinking about her own grandmothers and the role these two amazing women have played in her own life so far. Named after her grandmothers, Isa and May, who were present at her birth, Isamay shares more than just her name with these two unlikely women. She has inherited May’s stubbornness and determination and she looks just like elegant and sophisticated Isa.

As Isamay devotes herself to her interesting thesis, she examines famous grandmothers such as Queen Victoria, George Sand and Elizabeth Fry, and she attempts to find out in what way these grandmothers have influenced and shaped their grandchildren and what effect they had on their grandchildren. Although she is caught up in her work and is concentrating more on the past than the present, Isamay never forgets to visit her grandmothers or to think about them. Isa and May couldn’t be more different and they are jealous of each other and always fight for Isamay’s attention. They have high expectations regarding their granddaughter and therefore, Isamay is always trying to please both of them. However, her grandmothers are not the only important people in Isamay’s life. There’s also Ian, her secretive boyfriend, who never wants to talk about his past or his family, even though Isamay is eager to find out everything about him. Nonetheless, they seem to get along well, until Isamay changes her mind concerning a serious matter. Almost thirty, Isamay has never wanted children, but she suddenly considers this possibility. But Ian seems so sure of the fact that he doesn’t want any children that Isamay begins to wonder if his decision might have something to do with his mysterious past. As the would-be academic is caught up between the past and the present, she learns a great deal about history’s most influential grandmothers, but she also reveals and uncovers the dark secrets of her own family.

One could say that Isa & May is a powerful book about grandmothers and their important role in family life, but this novel is so much more than that! In my opinion, Isa & May is a tribute to every grandmother out there and I think that everyone should read this novel, as it narrates such a heart-warming story that will linger in your mind for a long time! After I have finished reading this book, I thought about it the entire day and I couldn’t help thinking about my own grandmother and how she has influenced me and guided me my whole life. I just loved Isa & May and I could really identify with Isamay in regard to her relationship with her grandmothers. I really liked the protagonist and I enjoyed reading about her dissertation work, as I found it fascinating to learn about these famous grandmothers. I loved all these glimpses into the past and I couldn’t get enough of Margaret Forster’s beautiful writing! I can’t believe that this was my first book by this talented writer! I think that Margaret Forster might become one of my favorite writers and I am looking forward to reading her other books in the near future!

What I loved about Isa & May was the fact that it dealt so much with the past. If you follow my blog, then you certainly know that I tend to read books that are set in the past, preferably in the Victorian Period. Thus, when I first heard about this book, I didn’t really know if I wanted to read it, because it is set in the present. But I still wanted to give it a try and I am so glad that I did, because it’s now one of my favorite books! Even though Isa & May is set in the present, it deals more with the past than with the present and that’s why I loved this book so much! I loved reading about Isamay’s relationship with her grandmothers and sometimes, I had to smile and laugh when I read about May, because she is such a great character and I grew really fond of her! I am very enthusiastic about this novel and I think it will appeal to everyone out there! Whether you have lost a grandmother, or if you still have one, and especially if you are a grandmother – Isa & May will make you smile and you will find this novel delightful! This book was perfect for me as I was lost in Margaret Forster’s beautiful writing and I think that the author has a real gift for storytelling! I was really impressed by Isa & May and I hope you will share my feelings if you decide to read this wonderful book!

Here are a few passages that I liked:

Page 97-98:

“It struck me today, as I was walking across Hyde Park, that I don’t really fully live in my own times. I often don’t see what is actually there. I see the trees, I see the grass, I see the Serpentine – I don’t mean that I’m not seeing my surroundings. But I don’t seem to see the real people. I wipe away all their reality. Instead, I fill the park with women in long dresses and men in frock coats, and other nonsense. I see children with hoops. Only the horses and dogs stay the same, because they never change. I love the past and live in it too much.”


“I am comfortable in past times. The people are so familiar to me…The past is so secure, all over and done with, all ready to be explored. The future was always exciting, but it also worries me now. I am no longer in a hurry to get to it. When my grandmothers talk about the past, it all makes sense to me, doesn’t bore me in the least. I encourage them, I always want more detail, and I go with them all the way.”

I think I like these lines because I also sometimes find myself living in the past and therefore, I can fully identify with Isamay!

Note: I would like to thank Kevin Soar from Random House Group for sending me a copy of this engaging book!


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alice Teh
    Apr 03, 2010 @ 11:09:32

    I like that passage about being comfortable with the past! I feel the same way too… Thanks for the great review, Andreea. My late grandmother has left a great impact in my life too and she was a great, great role model.


  2. Nymeth
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 19:13:28

    This sounds so wonderful! I’m fascinated by grandmothers, possibly because sadly I never met my own.


  3. Lua
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 20:38:54

    Oh God, this sounds like just the perfect book for me! My grandmother is my role model and she is a great source of inspiration for me. She finds her way into almost all of my stories as one of the main characters 🙂
    I have always found stories which dealt with the past very intriguing and I loved the passages you posted.
    Can’t wait to read this one Andreea, thank you for another amazing review!


  4. Andreea
    Apr 08, 2010 @ 10:08:34

    Alice: Yes, my grandmother did the same for me and still does, as she still lives (although she lives in Europe). She has taught me so many things about life and without her, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

    Nymeth: I am sorry that you never had the chance to get to know them. But as I said in my review, this book is for everyone, even those that never got to know their grandmothers. So I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it as much as I did.

    Lua: You’re welcome. I am glad to hear that about your grandmother and I like it that she is always finds a way into your stories. That’s just great!


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