Implausable but enjoyable summer read
Punchy popular fiction set in Dublin and Spain assembles a giant cast for a great escape
Never mind its airy-fairy title, A Summer Breeze is punchy for what it is: popular fiction marketed at women. These books are designed to be read quickly and impatiently and number-one best-seller Colette Caddle's latest novel commands just that kind of escape.
Here Caddle draws us into the world of the theatre. Set in Dublin and in Malaga in the recent past, divorced 28-year-old Zoe Hall has been cast as the femme fatale in an Abbey Theatre play called Isabella. But drat - her rising star is hoisted back to earth by drama within her own family and close friends.
Caddle assembles a giant's cast in which to explore varied personal troubles and toxic situations. In this fray of severed families you have everything: the betrayed divorcee, the rakish widow fallen on hard times, the hot single dad, the tortured playwright and, of course, the stock pop-fiction character of recessionary times, the building contractor reduced to doing odd jobs.
Caddle doesn't get too deep into economic problems. A Summer Breeze blows over the magical place where romance and nostalgia trip with wild fantasy. Theatre is the perfect backdrop for silliness.
People in the book "go into the theatre" as if that's a career option for actors in the 21st century. Leading man Terence is whispered about around town, women want his autograph. Leading lady Zoe has numerous gentleman callers. She's an "actress" - away with the PC androgyny of "actor". Nerve-gratingly, they say "darling" throughout.
We're shown the other meaning of "performance" too. People don't just act on stage - they act out parts in everyday life to preserve dignity, pull wool over their problems, and keep up "charades".
No one really works apart from Tara, a cook. Her marriage is on the rocks (because of the building contractor, because of the recession) but she's a force of nature, captured kneading bread while her rakish father, panama hat-sporting Terence, swans around kissing her best friend in the name of method acting. Stoical Tara is a prism whose hidden sides flicker into view for us. Heroine Zoe is a square, who's bland and flat.
Caddle delves into the theatrical demimonde in decent detail. But boy is it glamorised. We're not just talking dates in The Trocadero restaurant, sultry visits to drinks cabinets, beach bodies. We're talking tequila and chain-smoking while writing a shocking play in the moonlight of a mistress's husband's villa in Malaga - and lady callers.
It means that when tragic events do unravel, we don't believe in them as much as we might. We don't take the good example from our heroine's virtue that we might, as she decides to sacrifice her own interests to administer kindness to her loved ones. So much befalls everyone, and everybody cares about each other so implausibly much, it verges out of feel-good fiction into soap opera.
But Caddle has us clinging on, white-knuckled and bloodless until the final lines.
It's all to be taken lightly. Preferably on a sandy beach under a summer breeze.
A Summer Breeze
Simon & Schuster, pbk, e12.99, pp392
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350