Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

“It had all started with a question to her newspaper editor. Was it possible to travel around the world in less than eighty days, and – more importantly – could a woman undertake such a challenge alone? Not only did she ask the question, she proved the answer was a resounding yes, on both counts. I didn’t know her then of course, but oh how I admired her bravery and sense of adventure”

Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is just published with William Morrow. I have been a huge fan of the stunning writing from this fabulous pairing, so I was thrilled to bits when a copy arrived in my letterbox from Harper Collins Ireland. Inspired by the idea of trailblazing women who enjoyed travel as much as they themselves did, Gaynor and Webb set about researching for their next book, very quickly setting their sights on Nellie Bly. Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922) was an American journalist with adventure and attitude in her blood. She became well known for her challenging reporting style but she also accomplished a very personal goal by circumnavigating the world in seventy-two days in 1889.

“What was especially interesting to us about this whole adventure was not so much the places Nellie traveled to, or what happened to her along the way, it was the hysteria her trip created in America that really caught our attention”

Inspired by this incredible and brave woman, Gaynor and Webb have created a wonderful work of fiction, interwoven with historical events, taking the reader on a joyous adventure across the ocean from New York to France via the Queen Mary and on to Venice via the Orient Express, followed by rail to Vienna and returning to New York on the Hindenburg.

The year is 1937 and the world is on the brink of war. Violet Bell is in her dying days but has one last request. She gathers her two estranged granddaughters, Madeleine (Maddie) and Clara, to her side and asks them to personally deliver three letters across three countries, France, Italy and Austria. Clara and Maddie have barely spoken for some months due to ingrained differences in their personalities. Both see the world in their own unique fashion and this proposal from their grandmother is a big ask. Maddie has ambitions of being a serious journalist. The expected trappings of a young woman from a high society family were never on Maddie’s radar. A pair of brogues and trousers are Maddie’s go-to wardrobe. Maddie doesn’t feel the need to accessorise herself with a wealthy man and decides early in life to carve her own path and be a modern independent woman. For Clara a more expected path awaits. Engaged to the son of a renowned family, Clara is expected to perform all the correct wifely duties and remain loyal, quiet and faithful to her husband at all times. Clara is shocked by Maddie’s behaviour and attitude with the pair no longer seeing eye-to-eye. Maddie has no time for Clara’s beau and spares no words in expressing her opinion.

Now a trip together is a prospective nightmare for both girls but, out of love for their grandmother, they accept her request and, with trepidation, board the Queen Mary on a voyage that will change their lives forever.

Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb are exceptional at creating a visual journey for their readers. I was completely immersed in the lives of Clara and Maddie. I sailed the high seas and I dined like royalty on The Orient Express. I walked the streets of Paris and drank coffee down a narrow, cobbled street in Venice. When in Vienna, I felt the fear as the Nazis patrolled the street and their simmering anger toward the local Jewish community was unleashed.

Three Words for Goodbye offers the reader multiple stories combining some very poignant scenes with some shocking ones. Weaving historical facts about the modes of transport and the impending war, with beautiful and scintillating descriptions, Gaynor and Webb have created a compelling and dazzling tale that leaps out of the pages. With truly marvellous characters littered throughout, each brilliantly depicted, Three Words for Goodbye is another elegant and polished read from this magical writing duo.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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