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Emily Barr write travel-themed chick lit, usually with a bit of a twist. I have always enjoyed reading her books as I feel that they often have a bit more substance than some of the fluffy chick-lit on the market, and when I saw 'Plan B' in the library and realised I hadn't read it yet, I decided to check it out.
Plan B is the story of Emma, Matt and their two year old daughter Alice. At the start of the book, they are moving away from their home in Brighton to start a new life in rural France - sounds perfect, doesn't it? However, all is not as idyllic as it seems. Matt has persuaded Emma to move abroad despite her reservations about leaving her settled home life and, as the storyline develops, we start to understand his reasons for this. When they arrive in France it is winter, and the farmhouse that looked so alluring in the summer sunshine is falling apart, has no heat or hot water and the roof is leaking, plus they have to wait for all their furniture to arrive - it certainly doesn't feel like home.
Matt works in England for more than half of the week, so Emma is left to organise the French builders to start the house renovations, while making the house vaguely habitable for herself and Alice in the meantime. She has to settle Alice into the village school and start building a life for them both within the small community that they are living in. As the weather improves, she starts to feel more settled and gradually the house begins to feel like a home. However, things are not what they seem with Matt and as the book progresses, we are given more clues and explanations for what is happening and the real reasons he spends so much time away. Eventually, everything comes to a head and Emma is left to pick up the pieces.
The character development in this novel is very strong. The main characters are well developed and you get a good understanding of how they feel about things. Emma is the central character and I found myself warming towards her very early on. I really felt that I cared about the things that she was going through. Initially, she seems like a very straightforward character who is mostly concerned with making sure her partner and daughter are happy, but as we discovered more about her past and her complicated family history, we get a much greater understanding of why she is the person she is. Matt is a more complicated character - initially he seems like a good partner and loving father, but as we discover more about his dual life, my perceptions of him changed and I ended up losing any sympathy I had towards him. I really liked the characterisation of their young daughter Alice - she is such a typical toddler and the way she talks really reminded me of my own two year old. There are a lot of other characters in this book as well and I felt that even the more minor characters had enough about them to make it easy to visualise them.
The descriptive parts of the book are also very well written, probably as a result of Emily Barr's background as a travel journalist. I really got a strong sense of what it would be like to set up home in a small French town, trying to find a role in the local community and adapt to completely different surroundings. There is even a camera crew filming another ex-pat couple for one of those 'Place in the Sun' type documentaries and this leads to some interesting observations about how the local French population see the new English arrivals.
This is definitely a book that keeps you involved, I read it in two days and it was pure escapism from my long commute on the Piccadilly Line. It would also be perfect summer reading - I can definitely imagine reading it lying on a sunlounger with a cool drink by my side. Emily Barr is a great storyteller and you just want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. Yes, it is a bit predictable in places - I have read a lot of books where the initial happy family set-up goes wrong, the woman falls apart and then reinvents herself as a slimmer, more glamourous version of herself by the end of the story, but it's a type of story I like so I'm not going to complain about that!
The only negative point I would have about this book is that the loose ends were tied up a bit too conveniently at the end, but this is very common in the chick-lit genre and, to be honest, I quite like happy endings. Overall though, this is a good read which keeps you hooked right to the very end and I would recommend it to all fans of this type of book. Just don't expect it to be anything other than chick-lit!
I have read most of Emily Barr's novels and each one is fresh and enjoyable and you think they can't get any better. However, having just read Plan B, they do get better and I was totally absorbed in this story from the moment I picked the book up! Emily Barr is such a good storyteller and she hooks you from the very start so that you don't want to stop reading. I found myself snatching odd moments in the day to pick this book up, and now that I've finished it I'm almost disappointed as I didn't want to stop reading.
The main character in the book is Emma and over half of the story is told from her point of view and is written in the first person. At the beginning when we first meet Emma she is reluctantly moving to France to start a new life with her partner Matt and their two year old daughter Alice. They have bought a ramshackle house in a quiet village to do up and it all looks very daunting. It also doesn't help that Matt has to work away in London half of every week leaving Emma to look after Alice, and deal with builders, tradesmen and local schools.
The reader learns very early on in this book though that Matt has not been entirely straight with Emma and there are many aspects of his life of which she has no idea! The story follows Emma throughher initial settling in France, her discoveries about Matt and her struggle to cope with what she has found out.
It's a very moving story particularly as we have to watch Emma fall apart. It also shows the very extremes of being in love and what happens when that love is not enough. Emma experiences such strong emotions throughout the story - love, hate, mistrust, jealousy, lack of self worth and so on. All are portrayed so well in Emily Barr's excellent style. It makes for really good reading.
There are a number of interesting characters in this book and they all are very believeable. Emma is extremely likeable and I doubt that there are many readers who would fail to sympathise with her. Emma's family provide her with a lot of love and support and there are a number of local french and english people who add a touch of colour.
The story itself is quite complex with a lot of interweaving of themes. It's all worked through very well though and we are not left with any loose ends. It also works well with some chapters being told by Emma and others by a third person narrator. This is also essential to the story because it enables the reader to know things that Emma is yet to be aware of.
Overall this is one of the best books I have read in a while and as I said earlier it was quite unputdownable. All the while I was reading I was anticipating what might happen next and almost holing my breath as events started to unfold. I found myself very much on Emma's side and rooting for her through all her struggles.
This great book has just under 450 pages and I'm sure it could have been twice as long! It's published by Headline and my paperback version is available on Amazon for £3.50. (I'd pay double for such good book!)
Travel journalist Emily Barr has more or less cornered the market, it seems, in travel-related chick-fic featuring realistically flawed characters in unfortunate situations. Plan B is her fifth novel, following the earlier Backpack, Baggage, Cuban Heels and Atlantic Shift, which involved locations as diverse as Australia, Cuba and the USA. Plan B takes place in the South of France, and since this is where Barr herself now lives, we can probably assume her take on the young-family-moving-to-France theme to be a fairly realistic one, at least so far as location is concerned. Even the heroines name Emma is similar to her own, although I do hope Emily has not had to contend with all the same problems.
Having lost her mother at a young age and never known her father, thirty-year-old Emma is determined to build a stable, unassailable family unit of her own . and it looks like shes done just that, living happily in Brighton with partner Matt and two-year-old Alice. The slight fly in the ointment is Matts reluctance to actually tie the knot, but Emma is convinced he will eventually be persuaded. Unfortunately, Emmas commitment to achieving the perfect family life she never knew as a child leads her to behaviour which can probably best be compared to that of a doormat. Unable to believe her luck in snaring the wonderful Matt, Emma avoids challenging him on anything, and even when Matt decides it would be a fabulous idea to sell the house (hers), uproot the whole family and buy a dilapidated French farmhouse (with her money), Emma goes along with it despite major reservations.
Her fears seem to be confirmed on arrival it rains all the time, the house needs considerably more work than they had fully appreciated, and poor Alice just wants to go home. With little choice in the matter, though and with Matt away working in London for half the week Emma has to roll up her sleeves and get on with the task of creating a perfect rural idyll for their perfect family. It will come as no surprise to the reader, though, that the perfect family is considerably less perfect than it first appears, and before long Emma uncovers a deception of monstrous proportions Meanwhile, a film crew making a Place in the Sun type documentary about another British family who have moved in nearby are also taking an interest in proceedings
Like Emily Barrs other novels, Plan B is a great read with believable characters, and the authentic travel details are compelling, as is the plot, which contains a few unanticipated twists (as well as a couple that were, I thought, fairly predictable). Barr writes well and knows how to keep you reading. Her ear for conversation especially the speech patterns of two-year-olds! is excellent and although the plot may seem unrealistic, the reactions of the people involved are described in such a way as to suspend the readers disbelief. The title doesnt seem quite right Plan A may have been to live happily ever after, but there is no Plan B, unless Plan B involves having your world turned completely upside down and having to reappraise your entire life so far.
In common with one or two other Emily Barr novels I have read, I did feel the ending was possibly a little too pat and even a bit hurried, tying up all the loose ends rather too neatly in delivering a rather formulaic conclusion to all the preceding angst. It's a minor criticism, though, and generally I would recommend this as a good, escapist light read.
(Interestingly, I believe this is the same Emily Barr who, as a young House of Commons researcher in the 1990s, had a rather well-publicised affair with Tory MP Hartley Booth really, Emily, how could you?)
Plan B is available in paperback from the usual sources cover price £6.99 but widely available for less. 352pp.
In America, Plan B is the brand name for emergency contraception, and their tag line is For when things dont go as planned. If ever there was a sentence to summarize this story, that would be it.
I like Emily Barrs books, although after a few you can start to predict some of the details because they all stick to the same vague formula. Each thus far has included a British girl with an relatively interesting past spending at least some of the book in a non-British setting, and this one is no exception. Emma is a young stay at home mother with a 2 year old daughter, Alice. She lives in Brighton with her partner Matt, but he travels a lot with his job so often its just the two girls together. For reasons of which she is not aware, he suggests a move to an idylic farm house in the south of France and promptly moves the three of them across the channel the moment Emma agrees that yes, in principle that might be quite nice. This is where we join the story the book begins on moving day but through conversations and memories and flashbacks we later get a glimpse of the history behind the decision, their relationship and the many other reasons that come together in a horrifying manner half way through the book. As secrets are revealed (or uncovered in error), Emmas world starts to crumble around her, and she realises that Matt, the man she once knew, loved and hoped to marry, literally does not exist.
There are moments as you start to read when it seems the story is going off at a tangent there is a lot of talk about Emmas past, for example, in particular about her parents who were not involved with her childhood after the first couple of years. However as the story comes to its conclusion you see that everything said was said for a reason, that it all ties together, and that the way Emma treats her daughter is in fact a direct reflection of how her mother treated her. This is not the kind of book that hints at its ending from the first few chapters. The explanations of what Matt has been up to for the last couple of years are so horrifying that very few could predict it will turn out in the way it does, and its not a run-of-the-mill story about a couples problems. In fact, it borders on dangerously unrealistic and was saved in my mind only by the fact that Ive read enough trashy real life magazines to know that this sort of thing happens very rarely, but it does happen.
Despite this, I liked the book. It reads fluidly and interestingly. The observations of French village life and the characters is beholds are beautifully detailed, and the rawness of Emmas pain seems real. There are some very funny moments in a book that is not a comedy, and from the descriptions of the toddlers in the book, it is obvious that the author has spent much time in the presence of little ones (in real life she is a mother of 2)
The book is set all over the place France, London, Brighton and told from different viewpoints Matts, Jos, Emmas. It has enough French in it for you to remember where its set, but not too much that if you dont speak the language youll be lost. Deep down this is a story about falling out of love rather than into it. At the same time its about both independence from a partner, a family, an old life and dependence on a support system, on yourself, on finding a routine despite the madness swirling around you.
This book seems to me to be the kind that would be perfect for a lazy winter afternoon, when youre tucked up on the sofa with a hot drink, listening to the rain outside and dreaming of having a year in Provence à la Emma. There are times when you might want to be her, and times when you most certainly would not, but through it all the setting remains intriguing. I read it lying on one of the beaches in Sydneys eastern suburbs which was also good, but I felt I could have lost myself in the story even more had I not been fighting off seagulls and ocean spray and ice cream drips, and it may have painted a more alluring picture of France for me had I not been in blazing sunshine somewhere on the other side of the world. Its a book that, despite the heartache and torment, paints a picture of a potentially more desirable world, and I feel I could have bought into that more had I been at home in the UK rather than living it up in Oz.
Recommended. Out now in hardback / airport edition paperback. Coming soon in regular paperback, and will no doubt be given away free with a magazine at some point in 18 months or so.