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Having enjoyed all the other Carol Shields’ novels I have read, I was looking forward to reading this book, which I picked up at a book sale.
Written in 2003 it was short-listed for both the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for fiction.
The book begins well in an intimate conversational tone. We quickly learn about the narrator, her home life and about what she is and does, and by the end of the first chapter the main nub of the story has been introduced.
After this, it seems to me, the book loses track somewhat. It becomes heavy and ponderous. I struggled on with it but I began almost to dread picking it up. The narrator began to feel unreal. Her weekly coffee mornings with her friends bear no resemblance to any female coffee mornings I have ever attended. Maybe there are, somewhere, women who discuss deep meaningful subjects when the meet their female friends, but most that I now gossip about their husbands, their family, their work, their friends.
I also found it hard to fathom how the narrator ever finds time to translate books, write novels, attend literary conventions, meetings with her editor, prize givings etc. Here she is, living in an idyllic big house with a big garden that she says she spends hours tending with her husband (a doctor. How does he find the time either?) She has two teenage daughters still at home. She cooks beautiful meals from scratch. No convenience foods for her. She spends hours vacuuming under the beds, cleaning the bathroom, clearing out cupboards.
The story only really gets going half way through the novel, so you have to wade through so much preliminary to hurry through the last third to find out why the eldest daughter is so troubled. I came to the conclusion that it’s the story itself which is missing from the book. It is undoubtedly well-written, well-researched and hugely insightful, with a good sense of place. I also liked the fact that basically the narrator had a happy family life. She loved her husband. It is rare to find a good happy relationship in a novel. Most are troubled in some way.
Yet, overall, I found the book disappointing and it will be passed on to another book sale, rather than finding a place on my bookshelf.
Bethany Askew is the author of seven novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days, Poppy’s Seed, Three Extraordinary Years and The Two Saras.
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Two more women’s fiction books have been accepted for publication in 2020 and 2021 respectively and she is currently working on a new novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.