The Journey Home
I’ll only admit this once: I read the first ten Sweet Valley High books. They came out when I was in junior high, and I couldn’t help enjoying them at first. The twin protagonists are written to appeal to young preteens, and they are everything an awkward adolescent wants to be. They’re blond, beautiful, rich and popular, and they have dramatic yet easily solved problems. The Journey Home, the debut novel of Fiona Hood-Stewart, is Sweet Valley High for grown-ups. The rich and glamorous hero and heroine cavort their way across three continents, until they have a stupid misunderstanding and an argument that smacks of junior high study-hall. If you got enough of that kind of thing in junior high, you probably don’t need to read it here.
When India Montcrieff returns to Scotland following her mother’s sudden death, she feels a sudden bond with the home, Dunbar, which has been in her family for generations. Though a grand estate, Dunbar is not without problems; it’s expensive to run, and much of the estate is in need of repair. India has an older half-sister, so she’s not even sure she will inherit the estate anyway. The sister, Serena, is counting on inheriting the estate outright, and plans to sell it to fund her extravagant lifestyle.
Shortly before her mother’s funeral, India meets Jack Buchanan, an American tycoon who is accidentally trespassing on her property. They end up spending some time together, and Jack commits a faux pas: he tells India that Dunbar would make a great hotel. India is appalled by the suggestion, but they move on and develop an interest in each other.
When the will is read, India and Serena are both surprised to learn that they will inherit the estate equally. Since Serena is dying to sell and knows India is reluctant to do so, Serena approaches Jack about buying the property. She leads Jack to believe that she is the sole owner, and Jack immediately puts in an offer. Meanwhile, Jack and India both go to visit different friends in South America. Jack is converting an old estate into a hotel, and he asks India (who owns an interior decorating firm) to be the decorator. As they spend time together, they both open up about troubles in their past. They also end up in bed. When tragedy strikes and Jack loses some people close to him, India is there to help him pick up the pieces. But all the while, there is a potential misunderstanding looming between them. Jack is moving forward with his plans to buy Dunbar, thinking it only belongs to Serena. He thinks it will make a nice surprise for India when he tells her she can redecorate her family’s home.
Naturally, when India finds out that Jack is buying Dunbar, she jumps to the conclusion that he is in cahoots with her sister Serena. She decides to punish him by lying, and has her secretary tell him that she is having an affair with his friend and business partner. Even though several people suggest that India might want to call Jack and find out the real story, she is determined to avoid him and lie to him. After this point, the book deteriorates further into a mishmash of kitchen-sink plotting as Jack and India move toward their happy ending. The author throws in a half-baked suspense-type plot, a treasure hunt, and some paranormal elements.
Frankly, I didn’t think much of either India or Jack. Jack has a paternalistic, I-wear-the-pants attitude from the start. He thinks he always knows what’s best for India, and he gives off a dated, 1950s vibe. I didn’t mind India so much until the Big Misunderstanding, but once she refused to have a conversation with the man she was supposedly in love with, I lost all respect for her. I’m sure there are people that still behave in this way after they graduate from junior high, but I don’t want to read about them. The whole misunderstanding is poorly plotted anyway. There are several times early in the story when it would be completely natural for Jack or India to mention Dunbar and its possible sale, but since such a conversation would eliminate the potential for the lame misunderstanding, they just don’t talk about it.
There are several problems beyond the shop-worn misunderstanding. There are endless, tiresome references to expensive objects that various characters own, even at times when the author is supposed to be building suspense. Does anyone really care what kind of candlesticks are on the table when someone’s life is in danger? The story is also replete with wealthy secondary characters, and it’s difficult to keep them all straight. Most of them show up at random, just in case they might be needed. My two least favorites were the elderly friends who liked to give the heroine Hallmark card advice whenever she needed it most. Syrupy stuff , like:
“Pride and youth are a dangerous combination. They should never be allowed to dictate one’s actions. Remember that.”
Such quotes are typical of the problem which underlies everything in this book – it’s just so obvious. It’s obvious in its characters, its metaphors, its ostentatious wealth, and everything else. If misunderstandings don’t bother you, and you’re dying to read more about the international jet set, you may not mind the overblown nature of this novel. But I think its appeal is mostly limited to devotees to Danielle Steel and the like.