“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Laura Solomon / Paperback / Publication Date: 2011 / Publisher: Prospera Publishing „
Hilary, a single mother of two troublesome boys meets David, an elderly writer with problems of his own, through Facebook. It's an odd beginning - they have a mutual friend, so one adds the other, and then they start chatting quite spontaneously - but sets the scene well for their atypical relationship. Hilary's in New Zealand, David's in London. They are many decades apart in age but are clearly both quite lonely and looking for someone to talk to. So, with the vague anonymity of social networking on their side, they reach out to one another.
The first question I asked myself was why they were using FB messaging rather than regular email, and I decided the answer was so they had a way to have met in the first place. It doesn't tie together perfectly - later on they talk about how they don't know what the other looks like, and yet even the shyest of the shy would surely have the odd photo on the site or be willing to upload one in these circumstances - but it helps a little. Some stories like this are told exclusively through their chosen media - emails, letters, whatever - but this one is different in that they also manage to squeeze in some short bursts of narrative, and an abortive webcam adventure among other things.
Hilary and David don't write in the same way I do on Facebook, but I think this is reflective of their respective ages and lack of experience. Their musings are more like letters, but given their geographic separation the story wouldn't have worked if they'd had to rely on Royal Mail to pass on their missives. The extended soliloquies do help move the story on, though, and the background that they are brand new friends who know nothing about each other helps explain away some of the details they share, like the ages of children and what their homes are like. I found the speed with which they talked of meeting up unsettling, even when Hilary made clear it was her sofa, not her bed, up for grabs, but this was the only part I seriously questioned. They are two sorry souls who I think I'd struggle to strike up a conversation with in real life, so in that respect I'm quite glad they found each other.
I like books like this a lot, but for some reason I found this one a little slow and was tempted to skip a few pages to see if anything exciting happened. Hilary and David are similar in a lot of ways which is in turn interesting to watch and a bit boring, since the story stars just them and their computers so a little variation wouldn't have gone amiss. Their voices seem quite alike too though rather than querying this, I found it added to the sense that they would like and support each other - their age difference and backgrounds mean they need a few commonalities to bind them.
Nothing really happens in the moment, it's all being retold hours or days later for the benefit of the other party, so sometimes it can seem a bit distant and sterile when all you want is a nice bit of exciting action. There is a saving grace, though. The characters share a lot with each other and their honesty helps the book to succeed. We quickly learn of their hopes and fears and these are explicit, you don't have to piece them together from hints dropped here and there.
I've not read much set in New Zealand, nor have I visited the country yet, so I was a little disappointed by the descriptions or lack, thereof. I understand that there needed to be a distance between the two, but the choice of homeland for each ended up being unimportant and I didn't get much of a sense of the differences between our island and theirs other than the reversal in seasons. The author has lived in both places so perhaps no longer sees the differences, but I would have liked these explored more. I also found the book a little gloomy. Hilary and David's lives are not ones a reader would aspire to have and while initially you can root for them and hope things are going to improve, after a while I just wanted to ditch them and go and hang out with some perkier characters who can crack a joke or two.
This book won the 'International Proverse Prize'. It's not an award I was familiar with, but knowing something has won accolades makes me expect more. Sometimes it means I won't like it, sometimes it means I'll love it, but either way I'm expecting a polished, slick piece of work. I didn't think this was that - the cover and typeface are unconventional, the whole things looks a bit homemade and the writing could use some tighter editing - so judging it as a prize winner I was quite surprised. Overall, though, this is a harmless and inoffensive book which I don't urge you not to read, it just doesn't need to be top of your pile.
On Amazon at the moment the paperback is £11.66 which I think is rather optimistic. Even the Kindle price of £6.48 is offputting, but for now it's the cheapest you'll find it anywhere unless you hit up a charity shop (or use your local library).
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk