WIFE 22 by Melanie Gideon, HarperCollins 2013 €11.50 *****
Oh, no, I thought, as I cracked open the cover of Melanie Gideon's latest, and was immediately presented with the representation of a Google search. I quickly thumbed through the text, found a whole bunch of representations of email, and sighed.
Seems a lazy way to drive a narrative forward, I mused. If this was ever zeitgeisty, surely its time has passed?
Luckily for me – and by extension, you – it's my job to read what's in front of me. I am so happy that I was able to spend time with Gideon's Alice. It was time humourously and movingly spent.
Alice has two children that are beginning to flummox her, and a husband that is going through the middle-aged-man-thing: he's lost his job, and is drifting further and further away from her. She herself is a part-time drama teacher, and a playwright who has never snapped back from her first public failure.
When an email requesting she participate in a survey about marriage in the 21st century pops up in her inbox, she agrees, and it becomes the way in which she tries to gain clarity.
Assigned the anonymous moniker Wife22, the process of answering the questions allows her, for the first time in years, to investigate a level of honesty she's been too afraid to risk.
Is her marriage over? Is her son gay? Does her daughter have an eating disorder? Does the researcher fancy her or what? What would happen if she stopped worrying about everyone else and started focusing on herself?
What happens is a gorgeous, entertaining, and bang-on representation of our life and times in this era of instantaneous response.
It reminds us that if it's not healthy to dwell on the past, there are certainly clues as to why we made the choices we did in our old stories.
Gideon writes poignantly and hilariously about, well, everything, and then just when you think she's going to end it all with a great stonking Hollywood flourish, Alice almost screws it up. Which is why we love her. Loved this, utterly.
WHISKEY BEACH by Nora Roberts, Piatkus 2013 €14.99 **
If you are new to Nora Roberts, then you'll find this a well-told tale with lots of hotness and mystery. If you've been a longtime reader, you'll recognise the character dynamic from previous books, in which a troubled male's life is loosened up and transformed by a hippy-dippy female. I have several hippy-dippy qualities myself, and yet this chick drove me demented. If you are a Noraholic, and you absolutely must read it, wait 'til it pitches up on a shelf in your local library.
FIVE DAYS by Douglas Kennedy, Hutchinson 2013 €11.99 *
Excruciatingly self-conscious Laura meets equally excruciatingly self-conscious Richard while away from home on a radiologist convention (woo hoo). Her marriage has gone sour, her children can't bear her smothering, and – God forbid – she's started having actual feelings. Women have taken over the writing of female lead characters, and books like this are a compelling argument as to the reason why. Laura is dull, flat, and ultimately absolutely unchanged in any remarkable, uplifting way, by her journey. Tedious in the extreme.
JUST LIKE PROPER GROWN-UPS by Christine Hopkinson Hodder & Stoughton 2013 €11.45 ***
Hopkinson perfectly captures the tone of the yummy mummies and daddies that populate London's swishier environs. All the types are there: the self-loathing 40-something career woman with the hunky younger partner; the ageing rogue with the young girlfriend; the male pal that no one seems to have ever pulled; and the One Who Decides to Get Pregnant Before It's Too Late. If you dislike that sort of tone – the whingey, slangy, moany tone that is what passes for sophisticated these days – then you may like to give this a wide berth.
THE FARMER'S WIFE by Rachael Treasure, Hodder 2013 €11.50 *
I love books that are full of colloquial language that enhance your sense of a place. I dislike books that use such language as replacement for true character development and creation of atmosphere. Set in Tasmania, Rebecca is questioning her entire relationship with her suddenly middle-aged ex-party boy husband Charlie. Suddenly middle-aged herself, she is struggling to keep her farm alive, and her marriage, too, but all her choices make you want to shake some sense into her. Gets very preachy about eco farming, and in general, is as hard going as I imagine working on a farm to be.
FROM THE STACKS...
THE LANTERN by Deborah Lawrenson, Orion 2011 €19.50 **
If I'd known that the author was very openly patterning her story on Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I may have been far less cross. I think I even expostulated aloud, in annoyed disbelief, when Lawrenson's nameless heroine referenced the classic story.
The South of France setting is always going to win, but I don't think I've ever read such relentlessly descriptive writing before.
Every single thing in Lawrenson's world has colour, scent, texture, and – a primary character is a blind girl who becomes a top perfumer – it is exhausting to read.