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Having a Lovely Time - Jenny Eclair

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      16.02.2006 12:01
      Very helpful



      an entertaining read for the summer hols, divorcees may recognise the situation

      Much as I enjoy profound reading matter, occasionally I need something light for a change. Not so long ago I’d have chosen a thriller but my interest in the motives of killers has dwindled to zero, now it’s the description of human relationships - preferably of young(ish) Brits or Americans I turn to. Not that I have to apologise for my choice but I can always say that reading such literature gives me sociological insight into foreign societies and age groups to which I don’t belong (any more).

      Jenny Eclair’s ‘Having a Lovely Time’ doesn’t belong to the genre Chick Lit, a chick looks for Mr Right, and not to Hen Pen, either, a hen has found Mr Right and has problems with him, no, we’ve moved on to Divorce Discourse, Mr Right has proved to be Mr Wrong and has moved to other pastures, he’s either still living in his old home leading a double life or has left it to found a new one; the personnel in Divorce Discourse novels consists mainly of forty-somethings.

      The first chapter introduces the Jamiesons, we get to know them from the point of view of Guy, chief creative director of an advertising agency, his wife Alice is a stay-at-home mom as they say in the US of A, they have two sons, a 12-year-old preteen monster and a 10-year-old one treated by mummy as if he were still a baby; mummy Alice is an überhen, always clucking round her children, being a mother is her vocation.

      Guy can’t stand his bloated, shapeless, ever swelling wife any more, he’s disgusted by her mere sight, he also can’t stand her cooking or the way she runs the house; they’re rolling in money, yet it’s Alice’s innermost urge to buy second-hand stuff, special offers and cheap food after its sell by date. When Guy gave her a sexy morning gown at the beginning of her marriage, she took it back to the shop and swapped it for a teflon pan and a bread-maker.

      Why did they marry at all? When Guy was down she was there, helped him and then didn’t go away, the marriage just happened. Guy’s had pick-up affairs for years, now one of these girls has got under his skin for the first time, he’s completely smitten, they meet in the lav of the office whenever it’s possible. He’s working up the courage to tell Alice that it’s over with them, he knows he must leave her if he wants to stay sane.

      Without any transition the second chapter introduces the Dobsons, we are given Hils’ point of view, she lives alone with 13-year-old Tabitha and 10-year-old Saul after she discovered her husband Joe having sex with a half-naked girl in their car in front of their house, she threw him out and divorced him, he now lives with his girl-friend Nina and their 2-year-old daughter Freya but hasn’t married again. Tabitha and Saul visit their father regularly, the patchwork family seems to work, Hils is the only one who hasn’t come to terms with the new arrangement yet. Immediately after the divorce she started writing a diary which developed into ‘Diary of a Divorcee’, an extremely successful bestseller.

      The following chapters alternate between the two families who have nothing to do with each other, at first I thought the author’s idea was to show slightly similar familial problems and how different people cope with them, but no, she connects the two threads by making both Guy and Joe think by chance of the same holiday destination in Italy, a palazzo turned hotel and sending the families (bar Hils) there. Thrown in is another family with a precocious 12-year-old daughter and IVF (in vitro fertilisation) twin toddlers, two German homosexuals and a page three beauty with her hubby on honeymoon.

      It’s clear that several people who are together in one place for some time develop some kind of relationship, but it turns out that they don’t really start from scratch. Nina recognises Guy as the guy who virtually picked her up out of the gutter one night (he doesn’t know her, though) and who must be the father of her daughter Freya, the page three beauty remembers Joe as the photographer who took pictures of her in the nude for an advertising campaign for sexy underwear (he doesn’t know her, though), the fact that Alice is devouring Hils’ ‘Diary of a Divorcee’ is a funny extra gag.

      The minor characters are flat, one-dimensional, the main characters are round, not all are fully rounded but round enough to make them believable. The best achievement is Alice in my opinion, she’s so horrible, I want to grab her by her shoulders, shake her and shout at her, “Woman, look at yourself, pull yourself together, don’t be so prim, narrow-minded, stingy etc. etc.” but in the end the author succeeds in showing her in a way that makes me feel sympathy for her, not that I like her better, I couldn’t stand her for a minute, but I can understand why she is the way she is.

      The plot holds some surprises, too, the end is unpredictable, Jenny Eclair gets five stars for the characters and the plot, I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing. What about the style? Ah, in this respect I can imagine the readers disagreeing wildly! This is my opinion, so I’m going to tell you how it has affected me. The text is full of ‘language’ (sounds funny, as if a text didn’t always consist of language, but you know what I mean). If I formed an opinion after reading this novel on how Brits express their thoughts, any thoughts, I could only come to the conclusion that they can’t express a single one without using obscene words. I don’t like this, I’m sure many readers will love the novel because of the language, they may think it’s modern and cool or whatever, for me it’s cheap straining after effect. As there are also some really funny observations, I’ll give the novel two stars here.

      Normally novels are told in the past tense, if the present tense is used, the author must have a reason for it, the effect the present tense has is that the pace is faster, the reader is more involved in the story, I’ve experienced nothing of the kind here, however, the use of the present tense is only irritating.

      The last point: I’m not an expert, I wouldn’t know how to draw a clear line between erotic literature and pornography, for me this novel borders on the pornographic to say the least, no star for this; again, this will secure it many enthusiastic readers, but count me out, I don’t like such reading matter. If you want to call me old-fashioned, you’re welcome, you’re also welcome to write an opinion of your own on the book and show that I’m wrong and everything is completely different, this is what an opinion site is for after all, isn’t it?!

      Time Warner Books
      cover price 6.99 GBP
      313 pages


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