Cover image for Becoming strangers
Becoming strangers
1st ed.
Publication Information:
Orlando : Harcourt, [2006], c2004.
Physical Description:
307 p. ; 22 cm.
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After more than half a century of marriage, Dorothy and George are embarking on their first journey abroad together. Three decades younger, Jan and Annemieke are taking their last, as illness and incompatibility bring their unhappy union to an end. At first the luxury of a Caribbean resort is no match for the well-worn patterns of domestic life. Then the couples' paths cross, and a series of surprises ensues--a disappearance and an assault, most dramatically, but also a teapot tempest of passions, slights, misunderstandings, and small awakenings that punctuate a week in which each pair struggles to come to terms with what's been keeping them apart.

A hit with readers and critics alike when it was published in England last year, Becoming Strangers is a different kind of love story, in which there's seldom a happy ending but sometimes a chance to redeem a life half-lived.

Author Notes

LOUISE DEAN lives in France. Becoming Strangers, long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize and winner of the Betty Trask Award, is her first book.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

What keeps an unhappily married couple together? In her impressive debut, long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker, Dean dissects two hollow unions against the sultry backdrop of a Caribbean resort. George and Dorothy Davis, an English couple married more than 50 years, are worn down by neglect and boredom; Jan and Annemieke de Groot, Belgians married 31 years, are pulled apart by Jan's terminal cancer, which exposes issues they've suppressed for years. Dean is at her best in interior moments, when characters ponder their lives with private, brutal candor. "This was how they had always been," Annemieke reflects on her marriage, "his illness had simply developed the difference between them as light develops photographic film." As for George and Dorothy, they seem awfully reminiscent of Edward Albee's spiteful George and Martha. "You couldn't tell him that there was any marriage that wasn't equal measures love and hate," George Davis reflects, who decides bitterly that his wife now "wasn't content to have the last word; she had to have it twice." On holiday, friendships form, affairs spark and revelations startle. Adept at sharp dialogue and brisk plotting, Dean is also attentive to character development, choosing authenticity over sentimentality in a book that is poignant, often funny and unexpectedly redemptive. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Travel can broaden the mind, but it can also serve to affirm old habits and prejudices if, as is the case with the Europeans populating this novel, emotional baggage is lugged along with the suitcases. At a Caribbean resort, elderly Britishers Dorothy and George Davis are thrown together with a younger and more urbane Belgian couple, Annemieke and Jan De Groot. Although this is the Davises' first trip abroad (courtesy of their pushy daughter), it may well be the unhappily married De Groots' last, for Jan is slowly dying of cancer. Although he hopes the holiday will help them become better friends, Annemieke spends most of her time in pursuit of extramarital sexual adventure. George and Dorothy, meanwhile, are coming to terms with the fact that Dorothy is in an increasingly advanced stage of Alzheimer's. The novel might have sunk under the weight of its themes of loss, but Dean suffuses it with a comic touch and handles her several narrative threads with skill. Give this to readers who enjoy thoughtful -character-centered fiction. --Mary Ellen Quinn Copyright 2005 Booklist

Kirkus Review

Tourists at a fancy hotel on an unidentified Caribbean island find their vacation package includes the specter of death as well as skinny-dipping and anonymous sex. Among the vacationing couples in Dean's debut novel, which was long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize, are Belgians Jan and Annemieke. Jan has been fighting cancer for six years; it is now terminal. He's hoping for a reconciliation with his wife at the end of their long, rocky marriage, but Annemieke is more interested in self-gratification. She initiates sex with an unattractive guy named Bill in the massage room and later offers Adam, an English staff member, $150 for sex in her bedroom; she's 49 and feels opportunity slipping away. The British George and Dorothy Davis are much older; he's 79, she's 82. The old-timers bicker constantly, so it's a surprise when George later says Dorothy is "a good 'un. A pal," and more of a surprise to learn that she has Alzheimer's. In one of the novel's two main episodes, she wanders off dazedly into the countryside. After she's retrieved, she still manages to pull off plenty of one-liners. The other episode concerns Adam, Annemieke's stud. After he's serviced her, she cries rape, and things look bad for the Brit until her earlier fling is revealed. That's the action, such as it is, but Dean squeezes in several monologues. George confesses to cheating on Dorothy; Jan reveals "a brush with evil" in Belize; and Bill talks of his alcoholism and how it drove his wife to suicide before he turned to God. These monologues are more convincing than are the minor characters, especially the beautiful Chinese woman who wants Jan to elope with her to Paris (where else?) and swear unconditional love as he dies in her arms. Dean's grasp of the material is shaky and her voice erratic. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Caribbean resorts bring together all manner of people in all stages and conditions of life. Dean's debut, which won the Betty Trask Award, tells the tale of two such vacationing couples: George and Dorothy, who have never before in their 50-year marriage been abroad on holiday and try to ignore the growing certainty of Dorothy's Alzheimer's disease; and midlifers Jan and Annemieke, who have traveled worldwide and take this as their last joint getaway (Jan is dying from cancer). Jan and George strike up an acquaintance only to find that their wives dislike each other. A group of pretentious Americans absorb Annemieke, while Jan, George, and Dorothy connect with a different group. The week goes from bad to worse when Dorothy goes missing, and Annemieke claims she has been raped by a hotel employee. When the vacation finally comes to an end, everyone goes home much altered. This rich story, replete with well-drawn characters, is not a happy one, but it is a masterpiece about the human condition that will rile the reader's emotions. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/05.]-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Before he'd had cancer he'd been bored with life. Since he'd taken dying seriously, he'd been busy; he was occupied with understanding the disease and training his body to resist it. How hardy he was, physically. Six years of operations and excisions, starting with his chest, then the cancerous cells had metastasized to his lungs and on to his liver. A suite of initial excisions revealed each encampment to be partially malignant. He'd insisted on warfare. Each time the doctors told him and his family the chances of recovery were poor and the recurrence of cancer a likelihood. Year after year a fresh crop of cells emerged, excisions followed and he lived. The knife-and-forking of his body seemed to give a perverse impetus to his will to survive.His tenacious hold on life was partly begotten by the conviction that his life must have accrued some value over time. What about all the sights and sounds recorded, all those thoughts tracked? They must be worth something. They must add up to some meaning. Billions of words over the years ordered into a handful of simple notions. His mother! His country! Right and wrong!He gave up work. He took to reading. Politics, philosophy, biographies.An exploratory probe of his pancreas had revealed further metastasis just two weeks previously. They could not operate again, they said. He shook the doctor's right hand with both of his hands and nodded. Later that evening, he overheard his wife sharing the news over the phone, from the study, door closed. 'He's ridden with it. They can't do anything for him now,' Annemieke said.About three days later, their two adult sons had come by with the tickets for two weeks in paradise, a hotel spa resort on a Caribbean island. Very exclusive. Very final. He'd shaken their hands with both of his and nodded. Annemieke had kissed them.'He's getting weak,' she had said, looking at her husband. 'The travelling won't be so easy. But I am strong enough for us both,' she'd added, then excused herself to answer the phone.He had sat with his boys, holding the gift card between his fingers, pursing his lips, stroking his moustache, murmuring in bass tones, weighing reason as he listened to their news. The older boy was running his own Internet search business, the other finishing a PhD in philosophy at the University of Brussels. He tried to see them as real people.Meanwhile, he could hear snatches of his wife's excitable conversation in the other room.'Afterwards,' she was saying repeatedly and with emphasis.He read the gift card again. The instruction was, 'Vermaak jullie!' ('Enjoy yourselves!'), the implication that once that was done, he could come back and die properly.This was going to be their last holiday. They had had a few last holidays previously, but this was going to be truly final. His wife's way of confirming this was to remind him now, on the aeroplane, that they had had some good times during their thirty-one years of marriage. She sighed from time to Excerpted from Becoming Strangers by Louise Dean All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.