Family Baggage

( 5 )


“An endearing and humane story about a family and its sticky web of secrets and misunderstandings . . . one of those rare books you could recommend to anyone and know that they’ll love it.”
–The Australian Women’s Weekly

Harriet Turner knows all about journeys. She’s arranged hundreds of them for her family’s travel agency. Now Harriet is joining her adopted sister, Lara, to lead a group through the Cornish countryside. But when Lara fails to appear at the airport as planned, Harriet finds herself in uncharted ...

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Family Baggage

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“An endearing and humane story about a family and its sticky web of secrets and misunderstandings . . . one of those rare books you could recommend to anyone and know that they’ll love it.”
–The Australian Women’s Weekly

Harriet Turner knows all about journeys. She’s arranged hundreds of them for her family’s travel agency. Now Harriet is joining her adopted sister, Lara, to lead a group through the Cornish countryside. But when Lara fails to appear at the airport as planned, Harriet finds herself in uncharted territory and suddenly alone with a busload of eccentric seniors. As the tour wends its way through the picturesque landscape, Harriet must uncover her sister’s whereabouts and confront long-held family secrets involving Lara’s arrival twenty-five years ago . . . not to mention keeping track of more baggage–real and emotional–than she ever expected.

“With every book, Monica McInerney becomes more skilled at juggling plot complexities and giving depth to her characters. . . . Perfect [for] weekend reading.”
–Marie Claire (Australia)

“A book to treasure that is clever, amusing and heart-warmingly touching.”
–Woman’s Day (Australia)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Turner Travel specializes in themed tours that take Merryn Bay, Australia, locals abroad. The natural deaths, two months apart, of patriarch and matriarch Neil and Penny Turner leave the family business in the hands of their three children, Harriet, James and Austin; foster daughter Lara; and a handful of family friends. The book opens as Harriet, still recovering from her mother's death, leads 12 tourists through the Cornwall countryside in the footsteps of British TV detective Willoughby, but flashes back to the family's past and various coping strategies: James hides behind his domineering wife, Melissa; Austin parties; Lara, taken in by the family under mysterious circumstances nearly 25 years earlier, is the model of efficiency. Meanwhile Lara, who was to aid Harriet on the Cornwall tour, has disappeared, and Patrick Shawcross, the actor who played Willoughby and who has been hired to accompany the tour has mistaken it for a where-are-they-now media opportunity. The mystery of Lara's family and Melissa's nefariousness come to light, and Harriet's love life heats up. McInerney (The Alphabet Sisters), who lives in Ireland, offers a light look at a complicated family. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345490124
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/20/2006
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 292,095
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was all coming back to her, Harriet Turner realized. The key to being a successful tour guide was to think of herself as a duck. A mother duck, to be precise. A thirty-two-year-old mother duck in charge of twelve elderly, excited ducklings.

She glanced back over her shoulder, doing a quick head count of her tour group. Good, all twelve were still in sight, obviously tired but upright at least. They’d followed her obediently as she led the way off the plane, through passport control, and here into the baggage collection area of Bristol Airport. Ten gray-haired women, two balding men, none of them under sixty-five years of age, all in comfortable clothes and sensible shoes. Each sported a large turner travel: tours tailored just for you nametag on one shoulder and a homemade i’m on the willoughby tour! badge on the other. Some looked bedraggled from the long journey, but more than half were still smiling. The excitement of arriving in England had obviously lifted their spirits. Harriet was glad to see it.

Her protective feelings toward them had grown with each step of the journey. She’d arrived at Melbourne Airport two hours early so she could greet each of them personally. On the plane she’d regularly checked whether they were too warm or too cool and if they needed anything to eat or drink. During their overnight stopover in Malaysia, she’d kept a close eye when they crossed roads, walked across bridges, or ate anything that might have bones in it. All the simple rules of being in charge of a group had come flooding back. Of course she could do this, she told herself for the hundredth time since her brother’s surprise phone call. The tour would be a success. She’d do everything she could to make it a success.

They were among the first passengers from their flight to arrive at the baggage carousel. Harriet found a prime position, near the start of the conveyor belt and close to the exit. She was taken aback when the group clustered in a circle around her, looking up with big smiles and expectant expressions. It took her a moment to realize what they were waiting for. The customary Turner Travel welcome speech. James, her eldest brother, had begun the tradition, marking the start of each group tour with a little poem or funny speech beside the baggage carousel. He was usually so organized he had copies printed to hand out to the group members as souvenirs. Harriet’s mind went blank. She had been brought in to this tour on such short notice she’d hardly had time to learn the itinerary, let alone write a funny ditty.

She looked around at them again. Twelve faces looked back. Pushing embarrassment to one side, she smoothed down her official Turner Travel uniform, gave a big smile, and threw open her arms.

“Welcome to England!” she cried.

It wasn’t enough. They needed much more than that. She could see it in their eager expressions. She tried to ignore the curious looks from the other passengers coming into the baggage area and racked her brain. A rhyming game she used to play as a child with James and her other brother Austin sprang to mind. She’d have to give that a try. She threw out her arms again, hoping she looked confident and theatrical rather than weird and scarecrow-ish, and said the first lines she could think of:

Here we all are on the Willoughby tour

Through Devon and Cornwall, across several moors

I hope you’ll all have a wonderful time

And quickly forget this very bad rhyme!

She cringed inside even as they rewarded her with a burst of laughter and applause. “She’s definitely James’s sister,” she heard one of them whisper. She was saved from attempting an even worse second verse by the sound of the conveyor belt starting up with a metallic groan. Everyone sprang to attention, their eyes fixed on the emerging luggage.

As the first bags trundled past, Harriet felt a tug at her sleeve. She looked down. It was Miss Talbot. At seventy-three, she was the oldest member of the tour party. At four foot eleven, she was also the tiniest.

Her soft, wrinkled face was all smiles. “That was a lovely poem, Harriet. You hit the nail right on the head.”

“Oh, thank you, Miss Talbot,” Harriet said, smiling back. She had known Miss Talbot for as long as she could remember and was very fond of her. The little white-haired woman not only ran the Country Women’s Association craft shop in Harriet’s hometown of Merryn Bay but also knitted most of the contents. She specialized in yellow matinee jackets and small knitted penguins with crocheted orange beaks. She was also well known in the town for buying her clothes from children’s-wear shops. Harriet glanced again at Miss Talbot’s traveling outfit of pink tracksuit and matching shoes, trying not to look too obviously at the Groovy Chick logo embroidered on the front. “How are you feeling? Not too tired, I hope?”

“Oh no, Harriet. I snoozed like a bug in a rug the whole flight. And those little meals on trays were just delicious, thank you so much.”

“You’re very welcome, I’m glad you liked them.” No matter how many times she’d tried to explain, Miss Talbot remained convinced that Harriet was responsible for every single thing that happened on the trip, meals included.

Miss Talbot gave another happy sigh. “I just can’t believe we’re here at last. All these years of seeing Willoughby on TV, and tomorrow we’re actually going to meet him. I know I’m old enough to be his grandmother, but it really is so exciting. He’s such a dreamboat.”

Harriet grinned at the old-fashioned term, fighting an urge to pick up Miss Talbot and give her a cuddle. She wasn’t actually sure whether Willoughby was a dreamboat or not. She could never admit it to Miss Talbot—or any of the others in the group—but she had only a dim recollection of the Willoughby TV series on which their entire trip of a lifetime was based. All she knew was that it featured a dark-haired detective disguised as a postman solving crimes in beautiful seaside villages in Cornwall.

Her brother James, lying in his hospital bed, had tried to assure her it wouldn’t matter.

“You’ll never know the series as well as the tour group, anyway. You know where the word fan comes from, don’t you? Short for fanatics. And that’s what the Willoughby fan club members are.” He’d lowered his voice. “More Willoughby weirdos than fans, some of them, if you ask me.”

A bright blue suitcase decorated with a gaudy yellow ribbon came trundling past. “That’s mine, that’s mine,” one of the tour group called. Harriet leaned across and retrieved it. In the pretravel information pack, each member of the group had been advised to attach a distinctive ribbon as well as the Turner Travel label to their suitcases so they would be easy to spot on the carousel. They had certainly taken up the challenge, Harriet saw, as more of their bags appeared. They were decorated with everything from tartan bows to shiny red ribbons and chiffon scarves. It looked like they’d been on holiday in a haberdashery.

Another suitcase came toward them, decorated with the Turner Travel label and a bright pink pompom. It belonged to Mrs. Dorothy Lamerton, official president of the Willoughby fan club. English born, wealthy, polished, a widow, she thought of herself as the social Queen Bee of Merryn Bay. Harriet thought of her as the High Queen of the Willoughby weirdos. She had a matching pompom around her wrist. Harriet leaned forward and lifted her suitcase off the carousel, too.

Mrs. Lamerton gave an imperious wave. “Thank you, Harriet. Those conveyor belts go by far too quickly, if you ask me.”

A simple thing like collecting their clients’ luggage off the carousel was just part of the Turner Travel personalized service, but Harriet still got a little glow inside at the thanks. Harriet’s late parents, Neil and Penny Turner, had prided themselves on delivering personal touches. They had started the business thirty years previously in the small coastal town of Merryn Bay, two hours from Melbourne, after emigrating from England as part of the “ten-pound pom” assisted-passage scheme. The business had started slowly but grown successfully, with its emphasis on tailored tours and, latterly, themed tours like this one for the Willoughby fan club members. Harriet didn’t have to try hard to be able to picture the handwritten list of Turner Travel official rules her father had pinned to the wall of the staff room:

•Always be punctual.

•Help our clients in any way you can.

•Check passports and tickets twice.

•Confirm everything and then confirm it again.

•Be sure to memorize everyone’s name.

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Reading Group Guide

1. In the Reader’s Circle interview, Monica McInerney cites several authors as inspiration for her writing (John le Carré, Edith Nesbit, John Wyndham, Maeve Binchy, and Adriana Trigiani, among others). Do you see the influence of these writers in McInerney’s writing? What novels would you compare to Family Baggage, and why do you feel they are similar?

2. Reading has had a strong influence on Monica McInerney, as she discusses in the Reader’s Circle interview. How important has reading been to you? Did you read a great deal as a child, or have you come to reading later in life? What role does it play in your life today?

3. Do you think Penny was right to keep the truth about Lara’s parents a secret?

4. Was it fair for Penny to ask Gloria to keep the family secret? What would you have done in Gloria’s place?

5. Do you believe there are secrets that should be kept, or is truth always the best method?

6. In Family Baggage, Monica McInerney uses several different voices and viewpoints, from different family members, to tell the story. How did having different viewpoints help or hinder your connection to the characters and story? Do you prefer a particular point of view in novels (first person, third person, omniscient, etc.)?

7. Which voice in Family Baggage was the most powerful for you? Did you enjoy hearing from one character more than another?

8. Near the end of the novel (p. 456), Harriet and Lara each confess that they had always wished they were more like the other. Do you think this is a common sentiment for sisters?

9. How do the relationships between brother and sister (Austin and Harriet, for example), brother and brother ( James and Austin), and sister and sister (Harriet and Lara) differ in Family Baggage? Are sisters more forgiving of their brothers than their sisters in general, do you think? If you have both a brother and a sister, how does your relationship with each differ?

10. Were you surprised by Melissa’s plan at the end of the novel? Why do you think Gloria and the Turner family expected the worst from Melissa?

11. Some of the funnier moments in the novel occur with the tour group members. If you have been on a tour with a group, share some of the funny or insightful behavior that you witnessed within the group.

12. If you were going to embark on a television show—themed tour, which television show would you choose, and where would the tour take you? (For Monica McInerney’s choice, see the Reader’s Circle interview. Or check out page 177 for a clue.)

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2006

    Excellent Family Drama

    I really loved this book! I could relate to Harriet, having lost my own father very suddenly without the opportunity to say goodbye. This book is very touching, and really makes you appreciate family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2006

    A fascinating family drama

    In Merryn Bay, Australia, Turner Travel escorts local residents on themed trips out of country. However, the recent deaths of the family leaders, Neil and Penny Turner, within a couple of months of one another have left their adult children grieving and the business in jeopardy.------------ Though still in mourning Harriet knows her mother would have wanted her to lead the tour of twelve clients on a trip through the Cornwall countryside. However, her adopted sister Lara fails to show up at the airport as expected so Harriet is on her own pondering the future and dwelling on the past. James avoids confrontation hiding behind the skirts of his overbearing spouse Melissa so refuses to think about what will happen to Turner Travel without his founding parents to guide it. Austin refuses to do anything but party as he has no concern about the future. Finally adopted Lara, taken in by their parents nearly twenty-five earlier, tries to help manage the firm effectively, but suddenly instead of helping Harriet on tour, has vanished as she has learned something about why she was adopted.----------------- This is a fascinating family drama though much of the story line centers on Harriet. Readers see how the four adult children react differently to the deaths of their parents as James and Austin hide from it in different ways as the former uses his strong wife as a shield and the latter uses hedonism as an escape Harriet mourns her loss but grows as she is forced into new situations while Lara learns a shocking truth about herself that takes away from her chance to grieve. FAMILY BAGGAGE is an interesting character study that focuses on how the living cope with the deaths of loved ones though no one seems to just get on with their life.---------------- Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 11, 2014

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    Posted September 9, 2009

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    Posted August 16, 2011

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