I found this novel when I was wandering round a Car Boot Sale recently. The book although Second Hand was in excellent condition and at just 20p I thought I couldn't really go wrong. Even if I didn't like or enjoy the book, I was sure I could pass it on to one of my family to read.
==About the author:==
Raffaella Barker was born in London in 1964. She comes from a distinguished family, her mother being Elspebeth Barker the Novelist and her father George a Poet. She was brought up along with her 14 brothers and sisters in Norfolk, where she even lives now. In her working life she was a columnist for Country Life before turning her talents to writing books. So far she has written eight since her first back in 1995.
==Synopsis of the book:==
Laura Sale is going what can only be described as a 'mid life crisis' at 38 years old. She lives with her partner Inigo Miller for the past 14 years and they have teenage twins Dolly and Fred. However she feels she is no longer a person in her own right. That now she is merely Inigo's personal assistant and a mother to her ever increasingly demanding children. Her own needs, wants and desires seem to have disappeared along with her youth.
Now she is frustrated even by her successful by ultimately selfish partner, who she feels takes her for granted. However an opportunity presents itself for the family to visit her brother Hedley and his daughter Tasmin in the sleepy Norfolk village of Crumbly. This was where she and her brother grew up and returning to this place makes her very happy and back in contact with her first love Guy.
This visit and the change of scene takes Laura back to the happy memories of long lazy summer holidays. However her happiness in not shared by all members of the family, as Inigo particularly feels like a fish out of water in the country. When an opportunity to move up there is presented to her she immediately agrees without consulting any of them. Her plan is for them to live in London during the week and at weekends live in the country. But this is going to lead to trouble within the family as there lives are turned upside down.
==My thoughts on the book:==
My overall opinion of this novel was I enjoyed it. It was unusual but ultimately a satisfying piece of fiction. I think was mainly due to the storyline, it was never dynamic but one I found it easy to relate to. While being written in such a way I found it easy to understand and sympathise with Laura's predicament.
I must admit this is not the sort of novel I would ordinarily choose to read. As I really love thrillers, murders, suspense and mystery novels so in that sense I was out of my usual comfort zone. I had no idea as a result whether I would enjoy it or not. That said I think you need to experiment sometimes and try new things. Otherwise how can you say you don't like something when you haven't given it a good go.
Before picking up this novel I had never even heard of this author let alone read one of her novels. A few of the girls within my Department at work had recommended her books as well worth reading. Despite this I had few expectations when I first looked at the book, it was my belief that this book and indeed this author writes mainly for women rather than men. But having read this I did not find this to be a problem, I think a good book is a good book full stop in my opinion.
This is the fifth novel written by this author and was written in 2002. They are all different in terms of subject matter, with different characters in varying settings. I suppose I should have started with her first novel, but unfortunately it was not for sale when I was looking around for a new book to read.
Quite unusually for me I thought the title was pretty mundane and for me lacked both thought and imagination. I like a title that draws you in and gets you thinking but this one did nothing for me. So I turned the book over and read the review of it on the back cover. This was far more interesting, I liked the concept of a woman having a mid life crisis, not because I'm horrible but because whenever people talk about this subject it is always men that seem to have them.
The summary made me want to purchase the book. It had enough good ideas to get me intrigued in Laura and her family's life and what she was going to do about it. I particularly liked the concept of her going back to her routes and her childhood. As we often look back nostalgically upon this period of our lives and forget all the problems and worries when we look back on this time. I thought Laura going back was good as it's something we all at least wonder or consider in our lives.
When I came to reading the story itself I didn't immediately get into it and enjoy it. As the first couple of chapters demonstrated what Laura's life was like and why she felt the way she did. It was only as I got to know and understand her feelings and her character did it all make sense and you start to be able to relate to her and why she needs to do something for herself.
I liked the idea of her wanting to change her pace of life and I found the family visits to Norfolk very enjoyable. I found it fascinating how this different life was altering the family dynamics but also bringing about changes in their personalities, skills and knowledge. I liked the way Laura loved this challenge and Inigo resenting and rejected it.
That said I must admit I had no idea where the author was going with this concept of change and discovery. But that made it riveting as I wanted to know what would happen next to each member of the family and what decisions they would make next. As because of their very diverse views of this new life I did not see how everyone within the family could or would be happy as the story moved forward.
The pace of the story I would describe as quite slow and gentle. Maybe in part this can be explained by the fact that I usually read fast paced thrillers. That said there was always enough going on in the story to make it important for you to think about what was happening to the various characters and to enjoy their thought, feeling and actions.
As there was much to enjoy about the story and the way it was thoughtfully written. I liked the differences this book exposed within the family, but also the idea of searching for something we feel we have lost along our way, which may or may not be what we are really looking for, as it may be different from what was expected.
The final chapters leading towards the end of the novel were quite exciting but also unusual and unexpected. I did not know how it would all end up, but I always was intrigued as I loved the diverse characters and I think the author had the conclusion to the novel about right.
Laura was the novel's main character and the story centred on her. I found her to be a super character, I liked the way she was putting herself first and becoming a person in her own right again. I admired her spirit and her ability to take risks to find happiness. It was sentimental and I found I warmed to her personality, as initially I thought she was weak the way she always ran around after Inigo, but the further I read I understood how this had happened and I admired her doing something about it.
Inigo her partner by contrast always annoyed me from start to finish. For me he was a very conceited and selfish man who expected because of his Artistic gift for everyone to pander to his needs, for him to be centre of attention. That said because his character was so different from Laura's it brought up many very amusing and funny situations between them.
Their children Dolly and Fred were again extremes. Fred keen to embrace this new life while Dolly like Indigo wanted her creature comforts. This always brought out tensions, disagreements and lots of humour, which was brilliantly described and exploited by the author. Both children were well described and well thought out characters with enough diverse personalities to make you like them and understand their feelings.
The other characters within the story played a lesser but still important role. They all added to the fun and humour within quite a serious subject. There were all well crafted and I would have liked Laura's brother Hedley's role expanded especially once he found a girlfriend. The only character that disappointed me was Laura's ex Guy who I thought should have a more dynamic personality, but even he added a bit of spice to the story.
Whilst the novel was usually interesting and funny it was also quite thought provoking and deep for me. The idea of changing your lifestyle to discover a new you is one most of us would like to at least consider. But not only that it made me wonder about my past and if I went back would things indeed be different. I thought the author really got to grips with this well and demonstrated what changes this would spark of within any family.
For me the seriousness of the family in crisis was lightened by the excellent sharp wit of the author's pen. This meant you could take both the humour and the serious concepts and embrace them both.
The animals I felt also added very much to the humour in the story, with contrasting views on all the animals held by all the family members. It was written in an intelligent way that allowed the humour the flow sometimes subtly and at other times more obviously as you could pictures these hilarious scenes through the author's marvellous descriptions and characters reactions to them.
I thought particularly the author showed great insight into the dynamics of the relationships between all the family members in changing time. I liked the way she showed both the sensitive and strength of the major characters at different times during the story. So that you as the reader could understand their perspectives and relate to their situations and understand them thoughts better.
The books length for me was a little on the short side. However I did think it was a very appropriate and apt time for it to finish when it did. I would really have liked to see an epilogue, as I would love to know what happens to all the books wonderful characters three months or six months down the line. I thought the novel really needed this to finish it off and I certainly wanted it. For me that would have rounded of a very good book and turned it into an excellent one.
In case you haven't guessed yet, I really enjoyed this thought provoking, funny and perceptive piece of fiction. I would recommend it as an entreating read that you can take out whatever you want from it. For me I will certainly be trying another of her novels soon as I find her style of writing excellent and on this evidence she manages to bring characters to life within a strong well thought out story.
Publisher: Headline Review
More about the author: www.raffaellabarker.co.uk
Thank you for reading my review.
This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name.
©CPTDANIELS January 2010.