The Getaway Girls - Dee MacDonald

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The book opens with a lot of characterization data. It was a little too much for me. I could keep the main character, Connie, straight in my head, but for quite a while I confused Gill and Maggie. I had so many moments of confusion in this book - I find it hard to believe it was me, because I read a lot of books and don't get confused. I was confused whether Connie had 4 or 5 children. I was confused whether Connie was 69 or 70. It's a minor difference, but I take notes, so I can write the review, and therefore I notice these things. I was confused whether women were single because of divorce or death. I also got confused about who had been told what.

Connie is the main character who we meet when she is teaching a flower arranging class. She has only been divorced for three years, after a long marriage that included raising 4 children. She was an orphan at the age of five, and raised by her mother's brother and wife, along with their four children. She never got to know her father's side of the family. At the age of 70, she receives a box of photographs of her dad's family, and decides to go to Italy to see if she can find out more about them. (ref. ePg. 17) When she is 70, she has "three surviving children", (ePg. 42) but we don't hear about what happened to Ben, only that he died in an accident. It is mentioned a few times, but we never get more than a mention, which is a bit confusing why the author hints at something but never reveals it. I often wondered if the author had planned for one set of family statistics and changed it along the way but didn't catch all the edits. Connie tells the girls she left her husband, but some pages later (ePg. 180) she assumes they are thinking, "Poor old Connie, who'd not only lost a son, but a husband too - even if she hadn't wanted him." Initially I was also unclear why Connie was teaching the class, but on ePg. 90 we finally learn that she'd run a "small floristry business" while she was raising her family.

Supporting characters are:

  • Gill "was divorced at least once, had six children, and still" was boy crazy. (Ch. 1, ePg. 10) At another point, she says, "The only decent bloke I ever had died on me" (ePg. 169) She is a former model, not hugely successful, probably only got work because of her large chest. (ePg. 11) She is "alone after two husbands and countless lovers" (ePg. 11) and she lies about her age. (ref. ePg. 12) She is the first to indicate that there might be personality conflicts on the trip: Not for the first time she wondered how she'd survive in a glorified caravan, sleeping in a bunk bed with a nutty Scotswoman overhead and bossy Connie at the helm. Her family was right: she must be crazy. (ePg. 44)

  • Maggie "lived with some dodgy bloke, had a son on the other side of the world, and never seemed particularly happy." (ePg. 10) She was Scottish, had gotten pregnant at a young age and consequently married. (ref. ePg. 12) Her husband died of a heart attack when their son, Alistair, was five. Three years later she moved to London because she was following a guy she'd fallen in love with, Ringer. (ref. ePg. 12) She is a breast cancer survivor who not only covered the absence of her left breast, but also often covered for the crimes of Ringer. "Already seventy and the most agile of the three" (ePg. 204) Her son and grandchildren now live in Australia, so she rarely sees them.

The book incorporates a lot of languages and dialects; it is still an easy read. I'm American, so I noticed several British words, but it wasn't usually a problem. There are also a lot of French and Italian words, which are usually either translated immediately or used in context that make them easy to understand. Additionally there are characters from France or Italy that speak less-than-perfect English, but they are not a problem either. The only thing I found weird was that, suddenly, in chapter 24, the word poncy was used several times in a short segment and I really didn't get a clear meaning of the word. One other thing that might not translate well, was land size. There is a reference to "more than half an acre" (ePg. 304) as if it is a grand parcel of land, complete with a ruined house, on a hillside, with a great view. Currently I'm in my 4-bedroom home in Texas that sits on 5 acres, which we don't really consider a huge piece of land. It's small enough that our neighbors can still be heard and seen. It's not uncommon, in Texas, for neighborhoods to be built with 1/2-acre tracts sold to everyone, and they are not viewed as "land-owners". So, it doesn't sound that fabulous - but maybe in Italy it's a lot of land? Otherwise, it's fiction, why not make it a generous size of land?

On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex: 4

Religion: 4

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 1

Morality: 4

Traditional: 2

Sex - Gill admitted she was hoping to sign up for a drawing class instead of flower arranging because she hoped she "might see some naked manly bodies". (Ch. 1, ePg. 9) Some Paris windows had "a lurid display advertising sex shows". (ePg. 66) The women talk about their urges and lack of passion for a husband. (ePg. 134) Word play regarding the word "coming". (ePg. 191) A woman plays up her large breasts. (ePg. 213) A woman comes out of her bathing suit top. (ePg. 215) A woman thinks about her "lacy bra and knickers" and occasions when she might wear them, as well as "have them removed". (ePg. 230) "...they're both just desperate for a bit of nookie". (ePg. 231) "And just think of all those goings-on in the bedrooms! I bet you'd never have thought, as you were banging away..." (ePg. 306)

Religion - When Connie felt she should be planning a move closer to family, she thought, "Oh God no." (Ch. 1, ePg. 10) Easter is used as a time period reference at least three times. Maggie says she prays for her son every day. (ePg. 172) "She had offered up a little prayer that they be kept safe. And it appeared to have worked." (ePg. 194) When Gill thought she might drown, she prayed to God, "I know I've said I don't believe in you, but I do really!" (ePg. 214) Alfonso had a painting of cherubs on the ceiling above his bed. Connie and Maggie joked that Gill would look up and think she'd gone to Heaven. (ePg. 231) "In the cathedral, he crossed himself and slid into a pew for a few moments." (ePg. 235) "Maggie, a lapsed Catholic, was keen to go to the Vatican." (ePg. 259) "And I'd like to go to St Peter's one day, ... I may not be a good Catholic these days but I couldn't come to Rome and not see St Peter's and the Vatican." (ePg. 269) "It was far too early in the day, but God, she needed a damned drink." (ePg. 281) "Maggie was glad she'd come. She felt a definite sense of peace as she genuflected, found a pew and sat with her head bowed. Dear God, she thought, I don't know if you exist or not. But, if you do, I really need your help now. Please tell me what to do." (ePg. 290) "There was only time for Maggie to admire the church of Santa Maria Assunto" (ePg. 308) When Alfonso suggests that they see a cathedral, Gill rolls her eyes and comments that it would be "another ABC day", then explains that ABC stands for "Another Bloody Church". (ePg. 309) "The church held the crypt of St Andrew...Scotland's patron saint". (ePg. 309)

Gruesome -

Suspense - a bit of suspense towards the end of the novel when someone may be in danger

Morality - Confirmation that an affair was consummated. (ePg. 135) A man makes forceful, unwanted advances on a woman. (ePg. 167) Two women snoop around a man's bedroom when he is out of the house. (ePg. 230) I don't know what Gill and Alfonso agreed about their relationship, but Gill hadn't been gone for very long before she was already trying to talk herself into a relationship with Fabio. (ref. ePg. 266) The main sub-plot is about money that was stolen. A woman is aware her boyfriend is a criminal, but stays with him and supports him for many years.

Traditional - the girls went into a homosexual bar (ePg. 67) and worried about getting shagged. A woman speaks in favor of divorce instead of enduring "a dull, boring marriage". (ePg. 136) Connie took time off from her family, and then returned to tell her husband she wanted a divorce. Coarse language (ePg. 194) A gay, male couple. (ePg. 200) "two teenage girls, arm in arm, golden-skinned, chestnut-haired, casually but immaculately clad in tight jeans and crop tops" (ePg. 287) - nothing overt, but could be interpreted as non-traditional.

There were several times where I felt the author was trying very hard to convince us that everything was wonderful for the characters, but in the same paragraph there would be a negative comment that one character felt towards another. It started to feel like filler to make a longer book. For example: Gill gazed up at the sky as she bobbed up and down on her back on the gentle, waves, thinking about her family and their emails and e-cards, all full of good wishes. She loved them all dearly and she missed them - but only a little. And she certainly wasn't sorry to be missing the bloody party they'd planned. In fact, she had to admit it, she was enjoying herself more than she had in years! She was enjoying the company, even Maggie's caustic sense of humour. And, more and more, she wished this journey would never end; one beautiful place after another, endless sunshine, delicious food and, even better, Maggie footing the bill for everything.
Cue the bluebirds and gag me with a spoon. Is that not the sweetest and yet contradictory paragraph you've ever read? She says she misses her family, but she didn't want them to throw her a party and she was enjoying herself without them. She was enjoying the company, even if it was caustic - as in acid-like?

I thought it was funny that when they went to the leaning tower of Pisa, they learned that it was more than just the one tower. (ref. ePg. 234) In real life, one of our former book club members was in Italy, while I was reading this, and she posted about her travels every day, and included the revelation that it's more than just the tower.

Fun Facts

There really is a Teatro del Silenzio where Bocelli performs once a year. It is in the town where he grew up, and he is the president of the theatre. It is only used once a year for his concert in July. (ref. ePg. 257)

An internet search seems to corroborate the idea that there is a lot of unclaimed land in Italy, if you believe what you read online. (ref. ePg. 301)

Discussion Questions

Gill was "invisible to men, as are all women over a certain age". (ePg. 12) What is the certain age? Have you hit it yet? Do you prefer to be older and invisible or younger and visible?

When Maggie said she'd won money from a scratch-off ticket and that the money was stashed around the camper, Connie began to worry that they would be a magnet for thieves. (ePg. 57) There was nothing about the camper that would have made people think there was money stashed in it. Would you have worried?

"Why is it that it's considered OK for an old guy to have a girlfriend young enough to be his daughter, but it's considered weird if an older woman has a young boyfriend?" (ePg. 88)

Connie had a "little green Ford Escort" named Kermit. (ePg. 90) Tell about the cars you have named.

On her first trip as a single woman, Connie was surprised at how "enjoyable it was to be traveling with no family responsibilities." (ePg. 90) Do you prefer family or no-responsibility vacations?

Why is Gill so fixated on her age and her looks, even at 70? (ref. ePg. 146, and many other prior examples) Not until 200 pages into the book does she finally admit to being 70. (ref. ePg. 204)

When Connie admitted that she'd been involved with a man before she was divorced, Gill and Maggie said she needed to tell them all the details, since Connie knew all about them - but did she? Maggie hid the details of the money and Gill hid the details of her age. Which of the three women was the most honest? the most open? the most credible? If you had to pick two of the three characters to go on a road trip with - who would you pick?

It seems like they met a guy in every town and the guy was interested in at least one of them. I mean, I know there are a lot of men out there, but it just seemed a little overplayed. Would this have happened if they had been better friends before starting their trip? Is it not possible for three women to travel together without being constantly interrupted or distracted by a man?

Connie delayed to reveal to the other two, that she had a fourth child. (ePg. 170) It's understandable and realistic and shows that the characters were growing closer together. But, why is it important to the overall story? How does it affect Connie as a character and how does that impact the trio?

When Connie got the newspaper from Larry, did you think it would be significant? (ePg. 174)

Did you forsee any problems with them befriending the family with children in the camper next door in Viareggio. (ePg. 209)

Did you think it was possible that Gill had fallen in love with Alfonso? Gill and Connie tried to talk her out of it. (ePg. 233) Later, Gill tried to talk herself into Fabio. (ref. ePg. 266) What if it were your friend or traveling mate, what would you tell them?

Connie didn't care for all the vendors at the tourist sites, especially at the religious sites. (ref. ePg. 235)
How do you feel about vendors at religious tourist attractions?

How did you expect Connie's search for her ancestors to turn out? Did you expect a surprise connection?
Why did you think it was necessary for Connie to return to the lawyer? (ref. ePg. 299)

Why did Maggie answer the phone, even when she didn't recognize the number, especially knowing Ringer might be after her. (ref. ePg. 269) It seemed like Ringer had insider information to find them at different places. How did you think he was keeping tabs on them? How did you think Ringer was able to find the women in all the different places? (At the beginning of Ch. 28, the method is revealed.)

After a stressful phone call, Maggie wished for a cigarette, even though she gave up "smoking forty years ago". (ePg. 271) Have you ever wished for or craved something that you gave up long ago? Maggie genuinely believed that Ringer was in the hospital and near death. (ref. ePg. 271) Would you have gone to visit him? Maggie decided to "sleep on it". (ePg. 271) Have you ever used this method to make a decision? How does it work for you?

What did you think Maggie would do when the trip was over? (ref. ePg. 278)
Why did you think she kept returning to the docks in Naples? (ePg. 314)

Why did Gill cry after seeing Fabio? Was she crying for herself, or for Fabio? (ePg. 284)

"The things you most worried about were the least likely to happen. But she worried anyway." (ePg. 314)
How often do you worry about things that aren't likely to happen?

Connie thought that it was wrong to steal the money but that she could appreciate why Maggie did it.
"There's right and there's wrong, and there are innumerable shades of grey in between." (ePg. 334) Do you agree?

The second to last sentence of the novel: Connie's hand wasn't very tiny, and it was far from frozen. (ePg. 338)
What is the significance of this detail and comment?

Have you ever done anything spontaneous with strangers? How did it turn out?

Theme Ideas

Decorate with "bits of evergreen, sprigs of blossom and ...daffodils" like the book began at the flower arranging class. (Ch. 1, ePg. 7).

Decorate with begonias like Maggie planted to cover the things she hid for Ringer. (ePg. 13)

Decorate with "hydrangeas, ranging from palest to deepest pink and cornflower blue", like at the campsite (end Ch. 9, ePg. 111)

Decorate with copies of Elle, like Gill read. (ePg. 181)

Decorate with fresh lemons and oranges, as if they just came off the trees in Sorrento (ePg. 294)

Meet in a motorhome. Or do a wine tasting like they tried to do in Ch. 9.

Give your guests lavender, like the girls wanted to get in Grasse. (ePg. 136)

Watch "Roman Holiday" with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, like Maggie thought of when they went to the Piazza di Spagna in Rome (ePg. 277)