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Caroline Walker has a pretty good life. She's 42, married to her husband and together they have a gorgeous daughter Rachel who makes them very proud. However, her world quickly falls apart when she finds out husband Les has been having an affair behind her back, and promptly walks out on the marriage with her dignity intact. Caroline is shocked to be single, something she hasn't done for many years and her best friend Mary-Anne is determined to get her back on the market, even tempting her become a Cougar and hunt down a younger man. Soon Caroline strikes up a friendship with Adam, a young man not much older than her own daughter, but she likes the feeling she gets with her younger man. Is Caroline prepared for the backlash that comes with being a Cougar and can she really put her past behind her for good?
Cougars is author Claire Irvin's debut novel. Claire actually works as editor for SHE magazine, and has worked on some other high-profile mags too so certainly has some experience in writing for women. The book's startling red cover ensures it will certainly jump out at people on the book shelves in shops, and I quite like it, it does suit the book well. I was curious to find out how Irvin would portray the theme of Cougars, it certainly does seem to be a popular theme these days, with a television show starring Courtney Cox called Cougar Town also being a popular foray into the topic. I was curious about Irvin would deal with the subject, and so I began to read the book.
I'll be honest and say when I began the book, I wasn't especially taken by it. I found it a little slow and hard to get into but I persevered with it and soon I began to get involved in the story and found it picked up to a pace where I found myself enjoying it a lot more. Caroline was a character I quite liked straight away. She is a very strong woman, and she seems to carry on quite well despite her husband's betrayal. She outwardly handles her break-up quite well, determined to put her business and daughter first and I liked that about her - she doesn't want her husband to see how much it has knocked her for six that's she been betrayed. However, I do question some of her actions later in the book which seem at odds with her stance throughout the book which was a bit of a shame. I did enjoy the beginning of the book, Caroline taking a pregnancy test and wondering which man she was pregnant by, then the book returned again to 9 months previous to this prologue to tell us the story of how Caroline got herself into that situation.
Relationships are at the crux of the book, and I expected that Caroline would suddenly be sleeping around London to enjoy her new found singledom but Irvin chose not to go down this route, instead choosing to give Caroline a relationship with a much younger boy, along with all the hassles that it brings with it, including upsetting the dynamic between mother and daughter, and I think Irvin wrote this part especially well. She conveyed young Rachel's feelings really well and I felt this was a quite realistic. However, I was a little shocked at the other relationships in the books, those of Caroline's friends Mary Anne and Esther, both of whom are Cougars and enjoying extra-marital relations yet apparently that is okay and Caroline isn't bothered, despite her own husband's affair. It seemed a little hypocritical to me but certainly added a different element to the book.
The issues in the book are quite important, especially in the modern world in which we live where a lot of things which once would have been a bit taboo are now far more widely accepted and spoken about, and women in Caroline's situation is one of them. Irvin deals with the subject really well, not making it anything too over-the-top but believable, and treads carefully around all of the issues too. The problems at Caroline's work, Sapphires and Rubies, deserved perhaps more significance in the book than they got, and also a harder storyline at the end involving one of Caroline's friends, but of course these stories do have to take a back seat to the more plot-lead one.
It was an enjoyable read, I was drawn in by Caroline's life and I liked how the ending was left somewhat open.. I wonder if Irvin will be revisiting Caroline and co once more! Irvin documents Caroline's insecurities and worries about dating a much younger man very well, and I can certainly imagine that her feelings are those of a lot of older women dating younger men, the worry of what they see in you and that they're going to run off with someone their own age. This gives the book a hint of realism, and I liked Caroline all the more for it. The book wasn't at all what I expected and I liked that it was different and perhaps a bit more "grown-up" about the issue. It's a very strong debut and I'll look forward to reading more from Claire Irvin in the future.
ISBN: 978-0751545333. Published by Sphere on 17th March 2011. Pages: 400. RRP: £6.99.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com.
Thank you for reading.