Some people's lives seem perfect when they really are not. Take the case of Anna Lloyd the main character in Kate Long's latest novel "The Daughter Game". On the face of it Anna has it all. Respected by her colleagues and pupils alike Anna is a career focused , caring teacher with a seemingly devoted husband and a beautiful house. The reality is that Anna's personal life is in turmoil, as her marriage to aspiring writer Jamie is crumbling and her ill chosen affair with an unsuitable man is equally disastrous. The one thing Anna longs for most of all is a child to make amends for the childhood she never had due to her mother's unsettled life style. Instead she throws herself into her career perhaps getting too involved with her students especially new pupil Kali Norman who seems to come from a similar background as herself. "The Daughter Game" a tale told in the third person follows Anna through a school year and is a real car crash of a book containing love triangles and Anna's obsessions that spiral out of control.
Kate Long is one of my favourite authors so I was pretty eager to read "The Daughter Game" when it came out in paperback earlier this year. I was especially pleased to find it half price in Tesco where I paid £3.99 for the book. Kate long is an interesting author as she straddles the gap between popular fiction and literature and perhaps does not get the recognition she deserves. Her northern dramas often tackle serious subjects such as teenage pregnancy, infertility and martial breakdown aren't all doom and gloom and she has a keen eye for observational humour. Her characters are realistic, down to earth and a breath of fresh air from the London centric primadonnas current in modern women's fiction.
However her writing style has changed and evolved since "The Bad Mother's Handbook". Fans of the aforementioned book might find "Th Daughter Game" slightly difficult to get to grips with at first. I certainly did. The first thing I really missed was the sense of place that the first books had. I loved "Bad Mother's Handbook " and Swallowing Grandmother both set in Lancashire" due to the cosy northerners of them, "The Daughter Game is set in and around Chester but it could be set anywhere, as the location seems very peripheral to the plot. On the upside there is much to like about the book.
Before becoming an author Long was a secondary school English teacher and she uses her knowledge and experience to great effect. I'm not a teacher but I recognize the rivalries , banter and moaning about the management that goes on in any staff room up and down the country whatever profession you are in. The classroom scenes are just as good with the individual characters that make up a classroom so well defined from Lin the diligent, enthusiastic pupil down to Nathan Woods the disruptive attention seeker and Kali the mysterious troubled [pupil who Anna wants to save so much. One of my favorite scenes in the book has to be parent's night with Anna's thoughts and observation s about her pupil;'s parents reveled to us.
This is where the subtlety observed humour comes into play , as relationshis are beautifully observed. I particularly liked the exchanges between Anna and her sister in law Ruth, as they are polar opposites with Ruth being the untidy, homely earth mother who collects ornamental pigs compared with OCD Anna and her carefully restored antique dolls house.
One thing Long is consistent in is writing fairly annoying main character such as Katherine in "Swallowing Grandma" I found Anna to be equally annoying due to her obsessions and misguided actions .i just wanted to shake her and ask her "what are you doing you stupid woman". This was very much the case in a scene early on in the book where Anna discusses a poem with allusions to sexual content and imagery to her GCSE pupils. However this was part of the fun of the book, seeing how badly Anna can make a hash of things.
At 402 pages "The Daughter Game" was about the right length, for me. I found it fairly engaging, with an interesting plot and well written characters. It was not the best book I have ever read and because of its different style maybe not even the best Kate Long book. I did miss the regional accents of her previous books. However i do look forward to reading her next book and see how she develops further.