A summer of second chances, Spanx and botox
Fiction: The Importance of Being Me, Caroline Grace-Cassidy, Black & White Publishing, pbk, 294 pages, €8.95
'I feel like I am being watched. Sitting alone people-watching only reminds me that people are probably looking back at me in pity". Courtney Downey doesn't know who she is any more. She had the perfect life, perfect until her ex David took up with a younger woman called Mar-nee and skipped out on his marriage.
While Courtney doesn't particularly regret the breakdown of their relationship, she does feel the absence of a man in her life and can't get along with her 15-year-old daughter, Susan. In the early chapters, Susan is a cardboard cutout teenage character, forever buried in Snapchat stories. The final blow comes when Susan announces that wants to leave and live with her dad and Mar-nee full-time.
When Courtney is unexpectedly offered a job in seaside Cornwall, she heads off for a summer of second chances and a string of predictable incidents that speed by on a soapy froth. St Ives is "like the sea meets lavender meets coconut oil". Then Tony, the gorgeous town Lothario with a history, appears on the scene. Courtney is determined not to get involved, but Tony has other ideas and the bulk of the rest of the book is dedicated to their slow dance of courtship. Spoiler alert: hearts and flowers eventually appear.
On a trip home she finds out that her best friend Claire's husband has been cheating on poor, oblivious Claire for years with a string of men.
"We do what great friends in trouble do best," Courtney tells us. "We make new plans, exciting new plans… We squeal and laugh and then drink ourselves under the table and hail a cab each home to sleep it all off. For new beginnings are coming our way. We'll give it a shot."
Claire and Courtney decide to take on a joint project - running a Cornish restaurant, pushing themselves outside their worlds and trying to figure out how they want to spend the rest of their lives.
The initial chapters have the genre's tendency to bucket dump information on characters from an omniscient perspective, and it's spelled out one too many times that Courtney is hiding from her own life and has never been properly in love. From then on, author, actor and TV3 Midday panellist Caroline Grace-Cassidy's plot mainly rambles around Courtney's insecurities, finding humour in the mundane, and at her heroine's expense.
I thought that Courtney, at age 38, is too much of a spring chicken to be let loose on the subject of middle-age and botox.
But what Grace-Cassidy succeeds in doing is to tread, with flamboyant showmanship, a fine line between acknowledging the difficulties of middle age - not ducking out of writing about the unravelling of marriages and the challenges of antique parents and teenage children - without turning her book into a downer. She is capable of being an acute observer of behaviour and the book is written with humour and levity.
Courtney gets her chocolate-centred happy ending and those who can't get enough banging on about Spanx and botox are in for a real treat here. Grace-Cassidy's latest book is a page-turner every bit as charming and absorbing as her previous five and worth tossing into the beach bag.