Sheer Abandon

Sheer Abandon

3.3 20
by Penny Vincenzi

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A number-one bestseller from one of Britain’s most popular novelists, Sheer Abandon is an all-consuming story revolving around the consequences of a desperate act . . .

Martha, Clio, and Jocasta meet by chance at Heathrow airport in 1985 as they are starting off on separate backpacking adventures, and they decide to spend the first few days of their


A number-one bestseller from one of Britain’s most popular novelists, Sheer Abandon is an all-consuming story revolving around the consequences of a desperate act . . .

Martha, Clio, and Jocasta meet by chance at Heathrow airport in 1985 as they are starting off on separate backpacking adventures, and they decide to spend the first few days of their trips together in Thailand. When they go their separate ways, they vow to get together in London the following year. But many years pass before the three cross paths again, and the once-capricious, carefree girls now all have thriving careers. One of them, however, harbors a terrible secret: On her return from her pre-college excursion, she abandoned her just-born daughter at Heathrow.

Clio has fulfilled her ambition of becoming a doctor, only to find herself trapped in a marriage to an arrogant surgeon who belittles her and her professional achievements. Martha is a highly paid corporate lawyer, just embarking on a political career. Dedicated to her job, she has had little time for personal relationships and lives a busy, but lonely life. Jocasta, a tabloid newspaper reporter with an infallible instinct for the big story, is in love with a charming colleague who can’t make the permanent commitment she longs for. The infant abandoned at Heathrow has grown up under the loving care of her adoptive family. Now a beautiful teenager named Kate, she sets out to find her birth mother—a quest that unexpectedly brings the women together and exposes the secret buried so many years before.

Impossible to put down, Sheer Abandon is top-notch women’s fiction.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Transcends the testosterone-drenched nature of a typical thriller, delivering vivid female characters through crisp, clean prose and in-depth coverage of their relationships, families, and personal anxieties . . . fascinating.” —More

“It’s time Americans caught Vincenzi fever, because it’s almost a crime she’s not better known here. Everything is outsized in Vincenzi’s fiction: sex, money, personality, emotions, plot. And yet she gets all the details about human behavior and women’s conflicted lives just right. It’s perfect escapism.” —USA Today

 “A juicy page-turner.” —Cosmopolitan

Janet Maslin
Latter-day pretenders to this style usually offer one-dimensional characters laden with ugly motives and brand-name merchandise. Ms. Vincenzi creates reasonably credible people. She seems genuinely to enjoy their joys, their sorrows and their company.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

British bestseller Vincenzi (No Angel) pulls out all the stops in this orchestral saga. In 1985, three young British women meet in a Heathrow departure lounge en route to precollege sojourns. One of them, upon her return to England, secretly gives birth and abandons the baby in a cleaning supplies closet at the airport; "Baby Bianca" captivates the public's sympathies until she is adopted. The mystery of who her mother is serves as the spine of this fat, satisfying novel, and Vincenzi creates multiple intrigues around the three women: Jocasta, a rising tabloid journalist (Vincenzi wrote for Vogueand Cosmopolitan); Clio, a physician specializing in geriatrics; and Martha, a corporate lawyer running for Parliament. It's 16 years before they all meet again, and Baby Bianca has matured into a stunning blonde teen, Kate, who is summarily exploited by a ruthless fashion editor as she searches for her mother. The various narrative themes crescendo through several all-hands-on-deck scenes, including a swank party where daughter almost meets mother, and a packed funeral where someone figures out who the father is. Although some of the male characters are too overbearing to be believed (especially Clio's sneering surgeon husband), the women are, without exception, multifaceted, smart and brave, and their happiness is hard won. A U.K. bestseller, the book offers major escape and abandon for summer. (May)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Three young British women meet on a plane to Thailand in 1985. A year later, on her way home after living the high life in Bangkok, one of them abandons her newborn baby in a broom closet at Heathrow. Fast-forward to 2000, when random circumstances reunite the three women—along with teenage Kate, who loves her nice, stable family but longs to find her birth mother. Who's the mum? There's gentle and caring Clio, a doctor trapped in a loveless marriage; high-powered and high-strung lawyer Martha, who's just been tapped to be a major political leader; or freewheeling tabloid reporter Jocasta, living glamorously in London. Vincenzi's (No Angel) novel starts with the promise of a page-turning romp à la Jackie Collins, but at more than 600 pages, it limps along. It is also heavy on the British jargon, which may throw some readers off. Others might think they've read the plot before—Shirley Conran's Lace, anyone? Unfortunately, this is a pale imitation. For larger women's fiction collections.
—Rebecca Vnuk
Kirkus Reviews
Sixteen years after a trip to Thailand, youthful indiscretions dog four 30-something ex-backpackers, in this voluminous latest from Vincenzi (Almost a Crime, 2006, etc.). At Heathrow Airport, a teenaged, anonymous returnee from Thailand gives birth in a closet, then abandons her infant. Never fear-"Baby Bianca" becomes a London tabloid darling, and is adopted by a decent middle-class couple. Flashback to Heathrow the year before: Four rucksack-toting strangers-vicar's daughter Martha; pretty, chubby Clio; tycoon's daughter Jocasta; and her golden-boy brother Josh-meet while awaiting a flight to Bangkok. They vow to reunite, but lose touch after fanning out across Southeast Asia and Australia. Cut to 2000. Martha is a successful corporate lawyer. Jocasta relishes reporting for a London tabloid, the Sketch, and sex with her "commitment-phobe" boyfriend and fellow scribe Nick. Clio is a caring geriatrician defying NHS restraints (no fan of universal coverage, Vincenzi) to care for her elderly patients. Sterile, she dreads bursting her control-freak surgeon husband Jeremy's bubble of stay-at-home motherhood. Josh, married father of two, is still as randy as he was back in Thailand, where bronzed backpacking beauties were flinging themselves at him. When Baby Bianca, now Kate, surfaces (as a patient advocate for her grandmother), red herrings proliferate. Blond, striking Kate resembles Jocasta, who covers the NHS-bashing story and forms a bond with her. Kate models for a Sketch fashion spread and would-be birth mothers pester her. Meanwhile, her real mother begins to spiral downward, despite a rejuvenating affair with a younger man and a role as an MP candidate. Rebounding from Nick, Jocastamarries a wealthy retail magnate. Clio leaves Jeremy and finds her soul mate in Kate's publicist/manager Fergus. Then a jealous mentor spills the MP candidate's secret to Nick. Nick sits on the story until Kate and the candidate's conservative parents can be told, and the plot, flirting with implausibility all along, succumbs. More compact than five seasons of soap operas, but equally brain-curdling.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.22(w) x 7.95(h) x 1.33(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

August 2000

She always felt exactly the same. It surprised her. Relieved. Excited. And a bit ashamed. Walking away, knowing she’d done it, resisting the temptation to look back, carefully subdued—she could still remember old Bob at the news agency telling her one of the prime qualities for a good reporter was acting ability. Of course, the shame was pretty rare, but if it was a real tragedy, then it did lurk about, the feeling that she was a parasite, making capital out of someone else’s unhappiness.

This had been a horror to do; a baby in its pushchair, hit by a stolen car; the driver hadn’t stopped, had been caught by the police fifty miles away. The baby was in intensive care and it was touch and go whether he would live; the parents had been angry as well as grief–stricken, sitting, clutching each other’s hands on the bench just outside the hospital door.

“He’ll get what—three years?” the young father had said, lighting his ninth cigarette of the interview—Jocasta always counted things like that, it helped add colour. “And then get on with his life. Our little chap’s only had eight months and he could be gone forever. It makes me sick. I tell you, they should lock them up forever for this sort of thing, lock them up and throw away the key—”

She could see her headline then, and hated herself for seeing it.


While she was in the middle of writing her story, she got an e–mail from the office: could she do a quick piece on Pauline Prescott’s hair (a hot topic ever since her husband had made it his excuse for taking the car out to drive a hundred yards); they would send a picture down the line to her. Jocasta, wrenching her mind off the desperately injured baby, wondered if any other job in the world imposed such extraordinarily diverse stress at such short notice. She filed that copy via her mobile and had just returned to the baby when her phone rang.

“Is that you, Miss—”

“Jocasta, yes,” she said, recognising the voice of the baby’s father. “Yes, Dave, it’s me. Any news?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, he’s going to be all right, he’s going to pull through, we just saw him, he actually managed a smile!”

“Dave, I’m so glad, so very glad,” said Jocasta, hugely relieved, not only that the baby was going to live but that she was so touched by it, looking at her screen through a blur of tears.

Not a granite–hearted reporter yet, then.

She filed the story, and checked her e–mails; there was an assortment of junk, one from her brother telling her their mother was missing her and to phone her, a couple from friends—and one that made her smile. “Hello, Heavenly Creature. Meet me at the House when you’re back. Nick.”

She mailed Nick back, telling him she’d be there by nine, then, rather reluctantly, dialled her mother’s number. And flicking through her diary, knowing her mother would want to make some arrangement for the week, realised it was exactly fifteen years to the day since she had set off for Thailand, in search of adventure. She always remembered it. Well, of course she would. Always. She wondered if the other two did. And what they might be doing. They’d never had their promised reunion. She thought that every year as well, how they had promised one another—and never kept the promise. Probably just as well, though. Given everything that had happened…

Nick Marshall was the political editor on the Sketch, Jocasta's paper; he worked not in the glossy building on Canary Wharf but in one of the shabby offices above the press galleries at the House of Commons. “More like what newsrooms used to be,” one of the old–timers had told Jocasta. And indeed many journalists, who remembered Fleet Street when it had been a genuine, rather than a notional, location for newspapers, envied the political writers for working at the heart of things, rather than in shining towers a long cab ride away.

It always seemed to Jocasta that political and newspaper life were extraordinarily similar; both being male orientated, run on gossip and booze (there was no time in the day or night when it was not possible to get a drink at the House of Commons), and with a culture of great and genuine camaraderie between rivals as well as colleagues. She loved them both.

Nick met her in Central Lobby and took her down to Annie’s Bar in the bowels of the House, the preserve of MPs, lobby correspondents, and sketch writers. He ushered her towards a small group in the middle; Jocasta grinned round at them.

“Hi, guys. So what’s new here? Any hot stories?”

“Pretty lukewarm,” said Euan Gregory, sketch writer on the Sunday News. “Labour lead shrinking, Blair losing touch, shades of Maggie, too much spin—you name it, we’ve heard it before. Isn’t that right, Nick?”

“’Fraid so.” He handed her a glass of wine. “Pleased to see me?”

“Of course.” And she was, she was.

“Good thing somebody loves him,” said Gregory. “He’s in trouble here.”

“Really, Nick? Why?”

“Over–frank on lunchtime radio. Spin doctors very cross!”

“I wish I’d heard you.”

“I’ve got it on tape,” said Nick with a grin. “Good. I’m going to take you out to dinner.”

“My God. What have I done to deserve this?”

“Nothing. I’m hungry and I can see nothing interesting’s going to happen here.”

“You’re such a gentleman, you know that?” said Jocasta, draining her glass.


In fact Nick was a gentleman; nobody was quite sure what he was doing in the world of the tabloid press. His father was a very rich farmer and Nick had got a double first in classics at Oxford. He had rather old–fashioned manners—at any rate, with the older generation—and was much mocked for standing when a grown–up, as he put it, came into the room. But he had developed an early passion for politics and after an initial foray into the real thing had decided he could move into the corridors of power faster via the political pages of a newspaper. He was a brilliant investigative journalist, and came up with scoop after scoop, the most famous, if least important, of which was the revelation that a prominent Tory minister bought all his socks and underpants at charity shops.

It had been love at first sight, Jocasta always said, for her. Nick had walked into the newsroom of the Sketch on her first day there, fresh from a news agency in the west country, and she had gone literally weak at the knees. Told he was the political editor, she had assumed, joyfully, that she would see him every day; the discovery that he only came in for the occasional editors’ conference, or one–to–one meetings with Chris Pollock, the editor, was a serious blow. As was the news that he had a girlfriend on every paper. She wasn’t surprised; he was (as well as extremely tall: about six foot four) very good–looking in an untidy sort of way, with shaggy brown hair, large mournful brown eyes set deep beneath equally shaggy brows, a long and straight nose, and what she could only describe rather helplessly as a completely sexy mouth. He was very thin and slightly ungainly with large hands and feet, altogether a bit like an overgrown schoolboy; he was hopeless at all games, but he was a fine runner and had already done the New York as well as the London marathon, and could be seen early every morning, no matter how drunk he had been the night before, loping round Hampstead Heath where he lived.

It was not entirely true that he had a girlfriend on every paper, but women adored him. His secret was that he adored them back; he found them intriguing, entertaining, and treated them, certainly initially, with a rather old–world courtesy. When Jocasta Forbes arrived on the Sketch he rather miraculously had no one permanent in his life.

She had pursued him fervently and shamelessly for several months; she would feel she was really making progress, having flirted manically through evening after evening and been told how absolutely gorgeous he thought she was, only to hear nothing from him for weeks until some newspaper happening brought them together again. She had been in despair until one night, about a year previously, when they had both got extremely drunk at a Spectator party, and she had decided a proactive approach was the only one that was going to get her anywhere and started to kiss him with great determination. Unwilling, this time, to leave anything to chance, she then suggested they go back to her place. Nick declared himself hooked.

“I’ve admired you for so long, you have absolutely no idea.”

“No,” she said crossly, “I haven’t. I’ve made it very clear I admired you, though.”

“I know, but I thought you were just being kind. I thought a girl who looked like you was bound to have a dozen boyfriends.”

“Oh for God’s sake,” said Jocasta, and got into bed beside him and their relationship had been finally—and happily—sealed.

Although certainly not signed. And it troubled Jocasta. She stayed at his flat sometimes, and he at hers (in which case it was Clapham Common he loped across), but they were very much an item, recognising that the next step would be moving in together. Nick said repeatedly that there was absolutely no hurry for this: “We both work horrendous hours, and we’re perfectly happy, why change things?”

Jocasta could see several reasons for changing things, the strongest being that they had been together for well over a year and if they were so happy, then that was a very good reason indeed to change things. There was also the fact that she was thirty–three, which meant that next birthday she would be thirty–four and everyone knew that thirty–five was the age when being single stopped being a statement of independence and started being a worry. She loved Nick, and she was fairly sure he loved her, although he seldom said so, and usually then with that preface so hated by women: “Of course.” And she felt, with increasing intensity, that the time had come for some proper commitment. At the moment, it seemed no nearer; and it was beginning to worry her. Quite a lot.

“Where are you taking me then?” she said, as they walked into the long corridor.

“Covent Garden,” he said. “Mon Plaisir. I don’t want to see anyone in the business tonight.”

This was unusual; one of the downsides of having a romantic evening with Nick was that he was so in love with his job and so deeply fond of everyone he worked with that she often thought if he ever did get around to proposing to her, and was down on his knees and he saw Trevor Kavanagh from the Sun or Eben Black of the Sunday Times across the room, he would call them over to join them.


“So,” he said as they were finally settled at Mon Plaisir, “tell me about your day. You do look tired, Mrs. Cook.”

“I am tired, Mr. Butler.”

They had once gone to a fancy dress party as the cook and the butler and used the names occasionally in their e–mails (the more indiscreet ones), whenever a code was necessary.

“But it was OK. One tragedy, one trivia—Mrs. Prescott’s hair. I do get so tired of doing those stories.”

“But you’re so good at it.”

“I know that, Nick,” she said, and indeed she was good at it; she could get into anyone’s house, however many other journalists were on the doorstep, make her way into anyone’s life, it was all part of her golden charm and, to a degree, she knew, the way she looked. If it was a choice between talking to a male reporter in a sharp suit or an absurdly young–looking girl with long blond hair and wide blue eyes, whose face melted with sympathy for you and whose voice was touched with feeling as she told you this was the worst part of her job and she absolutely hated having to ask you to talk to her, but if you could bear it, she would make it as easy as possible—then it was not a very difficult decision. Jocasta got more bylines on human–interest stories, and what were known in the trade as tragedies—and also those about celebrities caught with their trousers literally down—than almost anyone in Fleet Street. But she was weary of it; she longed to be a feature writer, or a foreign correspondent, or even a political editor.

No editor, however, would give her that sort of chance; she was too valuable at what she did. In the predominantly male culture that was newspapers, a dizzy–looking blonde with amazing legs had her place and that was getting the sort of stories other reporters couldn’t. Of course she was extremely well rewarded for what she did, she had a very generous expense account, and most of the time she was happy. But as in her relationship with Nick, she was aware that she wanted more.

“Anything happen to you today? Apart from your scoop?”

“I had lunch with Janet Frean.”

“Should I be jealous?”

“Absolutely not. Very nice, I’m sure, but a Wonder Woman type, politician, five children, famously pro–European, sacked from the shadow cabinet is not for me. Actually, I don’t exactly like her, but she’s an incredible force to reckon with.”


“So, she’s pretty sick of what’s going on in the party. They’re all feeling depressed. Saying that the party has got everything wrong. That they’ll never get in again, that Blair can walk on water, however often it looks like he’ll drown. There’s talk of some of them doing something about it.”

“Like what?”

“Well, like making a break for it. Forming a new party with a few right–minded people within the party.”

“And do these people exist?”

“Apparently. Chad Lawrence, for a start.”

“Really? Well, I’d vote for him. Most gorgeous man in Westminster. According to Cosmo anyway.”

“Which won’t do him any harm—women voters by the dozen. And then they have a couple more quite senior and high–profile people in the party onside. Most notably Jack Kirkland.”

Jack Kirkland had risen from extraordinarily unpromising beginnings—and indeed unlikely for a Tory—from a South London working–class family, to a position as minister for education in the Tory party; his journey from grammar school to an Oxford first was extremely well charted in the media.

“So where is this leading, Nick?”

“A new party. A party just left of centre, but still recognisably Tory, headed up by a pretty charismatic lot, which will appeal to both disillusioned Blair and Tory voters.”

“That’s what every politician since time began has said.”

“I know. But there’s a growing disaffection with Blair, and there are a lot of instinctive Tory voters out there, longing for change. If they could look at someone new and strong and say, ‘Yes, that’s more like it, I could go for that,’ Kirkland and his merry men could do rather well.”

“And what does this Frean superwoman want you to do?”

“Get the editor onside. Get the paper to support them. When the time comes. I think maybe he would. He’s a Tory at heart and the whole thing will appeal to his romantic nature.”

Meet the Author

PENNY VINCENZI is the author of several novels, including No Angel, Something Dangerous, and Into Temptation. Before becoming a novelist, she worked as a journalist for Vogue, Tatler, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in London.

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Sheer Abandon 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
cyndescc More than 1 year ago
For the most part this book was a real page turner. I really like the style of this authors writing. I was able to predict some of the story line a little earlier than I like but overall was an enjoyable read. Personally I liked the trilogy of No Angel, Something Dangerous, and Into Temptation better but I am in no means sorry or feel like I wasted time with this book. Very entertaining.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Penny Vincenzi has the rare skill to bring characters alive so that you believe you know them. The storyline has twists that always keep you wondering. A book worth reading!
GrammyReading More than 1 year ago
having read a number of vincenzi's more recent novels, i ventured into the stacks at the public library for this one...and it took forever for me to finish this book...three weeks off and on, far surpassing my usual week or less rate..all that to say....this story went on, and on, and on...and over and over and over again...and was i eve relieved to get to the end..the characters are likable and interesting, the plot itself is believable and keeps you going forward to find out who and what and why and how...but gee whiz...did it have to drag on and repeat itself so much? compare, the author's writing has matured over time...from this one i can tell that to be true
b37cbrande More than 1 year ago
It starts out rather slow and you wonder if you will like it, but it does get lots better after couple hundred pages and now I am totally caught up in it.
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Bookworm21CA More than 1 year ago
i liked this book but i had a few issues with it. it was a really long book and it seemed to me there was a lot of extra information that wasnt needed in the book. there were parts in the middle where i was skimming the pages and struggling to get on with the main plot. i wouldnt not recommend this book to anyone, i just wouldnt read it again (i am very picky on the writing styles of authors i read)
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I listened to this book and couldn't stop. The best part of listening to this book was the amazing job the reader did. The way she gave each character its own slightly different English accent. Listening to it as opposed to reading it may be what makes the difference between it being a 3 star versus a 5 star book. I would highly recommend listening to this one for the full affect.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My book club read this book and we were sort of in agreement with Suzi, the first reviewer. It seemed to be lacking depth, continuously adding new characters without much reason or need...loosely connected. It was compelling enough to finish, and I will try another of her books, so all in all, 3 stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book because of all of the wonderful reviews. Sorry folks, I just don't see it. This is an extremely long, horribly repetitive and obvious story. Don't waste your time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I happened to pick this book up in the store, never having read any books by this author. I was pleasantly surprised as this book was very hard to put down. A satisfying read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Had never read this author before, was pleasantly surprised, lots of interwoven characters and action. Can't wait to read her other books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was alright. not the best, and with so many great books out there, dont waste your time on this one. i though the author did a good job on making you fall in love with the characters, however the plot was just way too busy. Eating disorders, susicde, depression, death, car accidents, sex, poltics,break ups, marriage, divorce, money, news, it had everything, and not in a good way. it felt more like a soap opera than a book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
About a year ago, I read this author's 'Almost a Crime', which was a DREADFUL book in both plot and characters. So what do I do? I read yet another of her drivel. This is truly one of the worst books I have ever read - unintereting, flat characters and repetitious writing combine to make it a better doorstop than engrossing novel. Please, if you have the urge to read anthing, grab a cereal box before tackling this awuful novel.