==Synopsis of the novel:==
Venetia Summers is a long-suffering mother. Her boyfriend David is working on a project in Brazil and instead of being away a few weeks it turns into a year. This puts extra pressure on Venetia as she is bringing up her three children, Giles, Felix and The Beauty. While trying to run a home, working and looking after all their pets, her life is never simple or quiet.
Her plight is not helped in the slightest when to everyone's surprise her brother decides to marry. This frustrates Venetia as she has been seeing David longer than Desmond has been with his girlfriend Minna. But not only that he wants to use her garden for the Wedding party, as it is much bigger. Under pressure from other members of her family reluctantly she agrees to host the event.
Meanwhile her children are running amok, missing a father figure in their lives and the stability this can bring, especially as Venetia's relationship is deteriorate to occasional e-mails and phone calls. While next door is a very wealthy single man Hedley Sale who she seems to have a few unfortunate run in's with. Her chaotic life is made worse her unusual career, which she is trying to develop as a clothes designer, but it seems her daughter ideas are better than her own.
==My thoughts on the book:==
This is just the second novel that I have ever read by this author. A couple of months ago I read 'Green Grass', which really surprised me and I loved reading it. So with this in mind I was keen to try another book from this author to see how it compared quality wise against it and I am pleased to say it was superb and I think marginally a better book than the first I had read.
I was expecting something similar from this author and in a way this was a carbon copy of the other one. Both were basically set in Norfolk and both were written from a woman with a young families perspective, struggling to find her place and position in the world. That was the similar theme that ran through both stories.
This did disappoint me slightly as I would like to have seen a totally different environment that I believe would have stretched the author and given a different perspective on her writing talents. But then I shouldn't be too critical as this lady is clearly writing about an area she knows and loves and all the best writers in my opinion are best when they write about things they care passionately about.
To be completely honest I would have picked this book regardless of what it looked like or its summary. The reason for this is her reputation and how much I enjoyed reading the previous book by this author. I really wanted something to compare that one against to see if it was a flash in the pan or she is indeed a superb writer.
However I was not without my doubts, especially when I looked at the front cover. It displayed a child pushing a ring around and it my mind it looked with its attractive writing as if it was designed with the female market in mind. This was confirmed when I read the summary on the rear of the book, it was a good length but was written by a woman and from another woman's character's perspective. I decided to read it anyway as from the summary it sounded interesting if not compulsive reading.
As soon as I began reading the book itself I discovered it was in chronological date order. This did put me off a little to start with especially as it was sharing this new character to me Venetia's thought and views on her children, life and the world. This reminded me initially of the Adrian Mole books, with the high standard of sarcasm, humour and wit. Where it differed was obviously the gender and also the depth of thought and sensitivity used in the writing.
Both of these styles are enjoyable because of the situations these characters find themselves in. For me Raffaella's style is much better as well as the humour there is a greater depth and direction to the story, plus for me she is better at describing and setting a situation.
Soon enough though I found myself getting deeper embroiled in the story and the characters within it. Initially I thought it would just be a good funny story, but there was much more to it than that a serious side sharing with the reader the worries and concerns this lady had with her life and those of her children's.
As the story unfolded I started to wonder what pitfalls and amazing situations she would find herself in next. I liked the way to Venetia her life made perfect sense but to those around her observing her and the children all they saw was the chaos. So they tried to interfere in it and make it more the life they wanted for her and the children.
For me what makes this author's writing so realistic is she writes about things she knows about and understands. Not only the rural lifestyle but what it means to live in the country with its very different rules and etiquette. How the value system is so different from Town life and the community life is considered important.
I suppose if I'm critical here I could say this did frustrate me. Not because this wasn't enjoyable because it was, it was because she used a similar theme in the last book I read from this author. I wanted something totally different this time ideally, that would stretch the author's knowledge and writing skills. But at the same time isn't it better to write about what you have first hand experience of?
What continues to impress about this author is the quality and her writing. I find the style very descriptive and like most good comedians she picks up on people's little traits and exaggerates them. So that you start to associate them with that and they are incorporated whenever that character is involved in a scene.
As I got towards the end of the story, I wondered how the author would finish up the story, there were so many possibilities so it was important to choose the right and correct one. I thought her solution was probably as good as she possibly could. It was not like many novels I read with an exciting conclusion, more it was an even pace throughout which was always fascinating and full of fun.
However I certainly believe the author could copy the Adrian Mole example here. By that I mean I think there is enough depth, interest and personality about Venetia and her family to make this into a series of stories. I would love to read more about these amazing characters and she what happens next in their lives.
To do this book justice and really pick up and take on board all the different levels of humour I think you would need to read it several times. As I believe you would pick up different things every time you read it. I'm sure for example I missed some aspects of it, as you need to concentrate the whole time to maximise it. Some of the funniest lines not surprisingly where from the children and also some of the most embarrassing ones too!!
The story was written completely from Venetia perspective making her the lead character. She was a fascinating multi-dimensional character, very different from most of us. She was in part a hippy, a rebel, a person most of us would like to be a little more like; she does the things that occasionally we would like to do. Her attitude to life and her children was great, yet at the same to you could relate to her worries, fears and insecurities. Her humour was sharp and over the book she became someone I warmed to and cared about what happened to her.
However for me she wasn't the best character, it was her youngest daughter the Beauty. What sort of name is that? It took me a while to get to grips with that! She was amazing, and despite being only three years old she was into everything and had her own mystical personality that often surprised her mother. She was so funny in all she did and especially what she said. She didn't seem to want to be funny, she just was and several of her best lines I really laughed at and had to keep re-reading them, as they were so good.
All the remaining support characters were equally well written and all had diverse personalities. I particularly liked the way Felix, Giles and the Beauty interacted. I thought the author had their relationship just right with all the ups and downs brothers and sisters have. They all had their own interests and sometimes it seemed the kids were actually the grown ups and Venetia was the child.
If I was to say this was just a well-written humorous story I don't think I would be doing justice to it. As there was far more to enjoy in this author's work, such as the quality of her writing. But at times it was thought provoking and brought up important issues and all the concerns and worries any parent has trying their best to bring up children to the best of their abilities. Because of this I think many people would be able to relate to Venetia's situation.
The books length was about right to give you a decent slice of Venetia's life. It covered 6 months and basically all the summer. Maybe a year would have been nicer but at least this period worked for me. With the author writing in date order I found it easy to read as much as I wanted or as little as I felt like because every few pages was a new day and a convenient time to leave the story.
This was a fabulous and well-written novel. In truth I think it is a book a lady would prefer and best be able to relate to, but don't let that put you off guys, give it a go I really enjoyed it. The story was so funny I challenge anyone not to find humour in this story and laugh at some of the situations and lines within it. Highly recommended as a well thought out and enjoyable read.
Price: £5.99 (New Paperback at Amazon)
Publisher: Headline review
About the author: www.raffaellabarker.co.uk
@CPTDANIELS March 2010