Isa & May, By Margaret Forster

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The Independent Culture

The heroine of Margaret's Forster's new novel has a curious name. Her parents have called her Isamay, named after both her grandmothers, Isa and May.

Since early childhood, Isamay has been deeply attached to these two old ladies, and now in her twenties is writing her MA dissertation on the subject of notable grandmothers.

Although ostensibly researching the private lives of Elizabeth Fry, Queen Victoria and George Sand, it's her own grannies that interest her most.

In a classic Forster novel about class and generational upheaval, here the author writes tenderly about the influence of grandmothers and their desire, as Sand put it, to "stuff" their grandchildren "with happiness". It's Helen's partner, Ian, who proves the enigma of the piece.