26 August 2016
There was a lot I really liked about this book. I took to Clair immediately – much of the book’s story is told from her perspective, and in her voice, so it’s really quite important that you’re in her corner. She’s very real – faults and all, but they’re failings that any woman of a similar age will immediately recognise. Some of her internal dialogue really made me laugh, out of recognition and identification.
The first part of the book is all about the holiday in Symi to escape the dreaded birthday – the setting vividly described and its quirks and detail immediately recognisable to any fan of the Greek islands (I particularly liked The Shop of the Sullen Adolescents, and I swear I’ve met the boat driver with the monobrow and bad breath…and who hasn’t searched for a single pack of Silk Cut amid a sea of Marlboro?). It’s a great romp (Clair’s cabaret performance and the octopus incident will long linger in the memory), but also something rather more than that – there’s a real poignancy in Clair’s efforts to move on and excellent handling of her relationship with her teenage daughter, but the smile is never far away. I thought hearing the voices of Fraser and Howard worked really well too – sometimes telling the same story from their own very different perspectives. Was I convinced by Clair’s love interest? Yes, very much so – and hearing his internal dialogue really helped with that.
Returning home, the story changes quite considerably as Clair faces up to the realities of life – and there’s a lot there to handle. Her mother is a real piece of work, and having met her I could immediately understand why Clair found keeping in contact such a chore – the action moves to Florida for a while with a lovely mix of slapstick farce and a very touching examination of the fraught mother-daughter relationship. The developments with her daughter, however, didn’t entirely convince me – I think it might just have been one story line too many. Friend Sonn, though, was a great character – a bit Ab Fab Patsy, and a wonderful source for humour.
And talking about characters, I have to pay tribute to Old Gluefeatures Howard – he was simply wonderful, and reminded me so much of men I’ve (rather sadly) also known. I loved his take on things, and his distinctive pontificating voice – from the viewpoint of desperate old fart and Education Authority administrator – and, quite absurdly, grew to really like him and to wish him well with whatever life may bring.
I must say though that the storyline that enchanted me the most was that of Maggie – Clair’s aunt – in her Scottish croft. Her voice was crystal clear throughout, her story beautifully moving, and her interactions with local characters and family perfectly drawn. She moves into the forefront a little more later in the book, and I was delighted to see it and to learn more about her fascinating life story. The displaying of hidden pictures telling of a long-hidden past brought a little tear to my eye.
Do I have any criticisms? Yes, just a few. I thought the book was maybe a tad too long, with slightly more themes and back stories than were strictly necessary. The writing is strong, and the dialogue excellent – but the absence of attribution and quotation marks does sometimes make it difficult for the reader, with the need to flip back to see who’s talking. But overall I really did enjoy this one – and look forward to seeing what the author does next.