I had heard of Isla Dewar but had never considered reading any of her work until I spotted this on in the library and decided it sounded interesting. I love books that focus on families - especially those of the dysfunctional kind so thought this would be worth a read. Its mainly set in Edinburgh aswell, which also appealed to me as I love stories set in Scotland.
The book is written in third person and flits from the point of view of various members of the same family. Each has their own problems, but many of which tie in together or are inadvertently caused by other family members. The book has a heavy dose of humour throughout so even in some of the darker moments it doesn't feel too heavy.
Although its hard to say there is a main character in this book, to me the main character is Lily, mainly as the book starts with her point of view and also because she is the character that holds the family together. Unlike most of her family who live in Edinburgh, Lily lives in London with her husband Art. Lily is a writer and is obsessively neat. She travels to Scotland to interview Rita Boothe, a photographer. While looking through one of Rita's books, Lily spots a picture of a young woman with tattooed thighs sitting in the back of a limousine, swigging Jack Daniels and wearing very little. This woman is her mother, Mattie. Lily is stunned to see a side of her mother that she never knew existed, and feels herself to be drab and boring in comparision. She then takes it upon herself to add a bit of spontaneity to her life.
Lily has two siblings - Marie, who is a single parent with three children, and who is facing a custody suit with her bitter ex-husband, and Rory, who lives in Paris with his French girlfriend. Rory tries to avoid family gatherings as much as he can, even moreso now as he has found himself accidentally engaged to his girlfriend who has announced she wants to start a family. Rory isn't sure he's ready for any of this.
Their mother Mattie is now nothing like the woman Lily saw in the photograph. She and her husband John live in a big old house that is falling to bits and now seem to spend most of their time bickering. Upstairs, John's dad - known to everyone simply as Grandpa - flirts on the internet with a woman who believes him to be much younger than he is.
All characters are strong and believable, and likeable. None are more likeable than the next, mainly because the writer has skilfully crafted their personalities so that each has a realistic mix of good and bad. She also has a great knack for creating family relationships. Lily and Marie are both jealous of each other. Mattie is jealous of Lily yet Lily is equally jealous of her. And the misunderstandings - such as the missing remote control and the cheese sandwich on the picnic - mirror the daft things that families really do fall out over.
Reading the story from everyone's point of view is helpful in allowing the reader to sympathise with everyone. For example Mattie is offended because she feels her children are keeping things from her. We, as a reader, can see why she is upset, but can also see why the others didn't want to tell her.
This book doesn't have a plot as such, it's as if each character has their own secrets and problems, all of which have been woven together. What one character does often affects the other without them realising it. Saying that, the book had me hooked early on and I was desperate to see how things worked out. The ending was pretty much what I would have expected although I was sorry to get there because I had come to know the characters so well that I was sorry to see them go.
The themes in this book is that of beauty and acceptance. Sometimes things are not that perfect but if we look closely we can see the beauty there anyway. The character of Rita Boothe is used in contract to the family in that she is alone, isolated from her only son and with no other family. Mattie envies her in so many ways, but the reader - and indeed Rita herself - can see that Mattie is the lucky one because she is surrounded by such a close family. Which although not always perfect, is always there. It also illustrates that sometimes it's the small things in life - like the missing remote control - that can cause the biggest problems.
I would highly recommend this book as a light read. Its beautifully written with plenty humour, and you'll probably find yourself identifying with a lot of the situations!