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I've just finished reading this book after borrowing it from the library. Cristina Odone is a new name to me but I read two Jodi Picoult books before this and fancied a more light-hearted book for a change.
As you can probably tell from the book's title, the central character is Harriet. She is married to struggling writer Guy and working part-time at a charity while raising their three children and constantly wondering how the bills will be paid this month seeing as Guy's contribution is somewhat limited due to his freelance status. Sound familiar? Maybe, but the Carews have an added complication that impacts heavily on their financial situation- Guy's ridiculous insistence that their eldest son, Alex, attends a prestigious private school because it's what his family have always done. I say ridiculous as it's blatantly obvious that the family simply cannot afford this, especially when they are struggling to get bills paid and have to downgrade the importance of fixing things like a leaky roof because the school fees come first.
While the characters are otherwise likeable, this was quite a big flaw for me on two bases. Firstly, I just couldn't understand the frequent justifications for the continuation of the school fees being paid, especially with the compromises that would have to be made to keep paying them. I constantly found myself wanting to give Harriet a good shake and tell her to just overrule Guy and tell him how stupid the whole family pride thing was.
Secondly, I know what it's like to struggle on a predominantly freelance income and given the strong possibility that well-paid work (or indeed, work of any kind) will be present this month but dry up for the next three (that's the nature of freelancing half the time - feast or famine!), the school fees issue become increasingly annoying for me. It's true that Harriet has a job but it's only a few days a week and I got the impression that it wasn't particularly well-paid but no real thought seemed to be given by either of them as to what would happen if she was to lose that job and they had to rely on Guy's fluctuating income. At one particular point, the fees for the private schooling were a whopping £5k and I found it quite unrealistic that a supposedly struggling writer who could hardly sell any copies of his books would bring in enough to throw this kind of money around as the school fees alone must have come to at least £10-15k a year! This is all personal to me of course but I've seen other reviews in which the first part of this paragraph (the choice to pay the big school fees) was negatively perceived by other reviewers
To me, the "dilemnas" part of the title was a minor source of annoyance so any financial problems that the Carews are facing are largely self-inflicted out of their own choice. I will concede that the either side of the plot involving Harriet having a chance meeting with her ex and first love, James, does present her with something of a dilemna.
As for the characters, they were well written and there was nothing particularly wrong with them as such - it was the context that I found more annoying. Harriet seems normal for the situation that she finds herself in as I'd imagine that on meeting your first boyfriend again, it would only be natural to have 'the grass is greener' thoughts about what might have been, particularly if your current life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Guy is nice enough too, if a little naive and optimistic about his career and their situation in general but his heart is in the right place and he clearly loves his family.
To sum things up, this isn't a bad book by any means but at the same time, it's not one that I'd rush to read again. If you don't find the school fees part of the plot irritating, you could easily enjoy the book as the characters are easy to take to and the writing is light-hearted, fluffy and not at all taxing. It's definitely a chick-lit book and will probably appeal to readers who like that genre.
Every week, I find myself in the local retail park, and they have a wonderfully large Borders shop. It's like paradise for me and I spend ages browsing all the books to see what takes my fancy. I only buy from here when its something I really want to read, so I take a little notepad with me and write down the ones I want to get from the library. One such book was this one from writer Cristina Odone. The story looked fun and interesting and luckily my library already had a copy in, so I took it home and looked forward to reading it. I finally got around to it a while ago, so here is my review.
Harriet Carew is struggling to juggle all of her commitments, be it financial, family or job and its stressing her out. Her and her husband Guy are determined to send their boys to the local private school, but are finding it hard to pay the fees. Consequently, Harriet finds herself at work more to earn some pennies while hubby Guy is being wooed by BBC to turn his books into TV documentaries. But Harriet's past comes back to surprise her in the form of her ex-boyfriend James who's now a rather wealthy businessman. Is Harriet going to be attracted by what could have been, or will she stay with financially struggling Guy and their family?
According to the first couple of pages, Cristina Odone originally wrote the character of Harriet Carew for the Daily Telegraph newspaper in a series of columns called "Posh and Poor". The column was so well received that she was commissioned to write a book about Harriet, and this is the result. Now, I've never read either the Telegraph or Odone's column so I didn't know what to expect from either thing, but I presumed it must be quite good for a book to have come out of it. I therefore looked forward to good characters and a good writing style, and while I was satisfied on one account, the other sadly left me cold and somewhat annoyed by the time I finished my book.
My problem with the book certainly doesn't lie with the writing of the book. Odone writes in a likeable and easy to read way, and I found the story moved at a good pace which kept me interested. My real gripe with the book was just the story and the characters. To be honest, it's all about how hard life is when you have to scrimp and save to send your children to private school, everything else including the leak in the roof takes lower priority and your best friend is moving across to Chelsea to have another baby. It is a really shallow story, and it did leave me wondering why I should bother caring about Harriet and her self-inflicted money woes. Sure, we'd all love our children to have the best education but for most of us, state schools are the answer, and are a good one too. This book seems to slag off these free educational establishments in favour of posh ludicriously expensive private schools, and I think its wrong.
As I mentioned, the characterisation in the book was good, but I just couldn't care for their "dilemmas" and therefore found it hard to care about them as well. Harriet's husband Guy is probably the worst of the lot - totally selfish and determined to send his boys to private school, never mind the cost of it in all senses. I hated his character so much, I almost decided to skip the scenes with him in but didn't as I didn't want to miss anything. Harriet's colleagues were okay characters, but didn't appear much so again I don't feel like I cared about them because I didn't know them enough. Harriet's best friend was hilarious, probably the best character in the book simply because she was so unrealistic and daft, she did provide some much needed comic relief in the book, but its sad that only one character appealed to me out of all of them.
The premise of the story sounded like it could be a good one, but sadly it just fell flat for me because of the way the characters just do not at all endear themselves to the reader. You can't feel sorry for their predicament because its all brought on themselves, and in this time of financial recession, its really not the sort of thing that I want to be reading about. Harriet and her family were well written, but still I couldn't stand them and felt them to be selfish, unlikeable and just not nice people really. I am sure there will be people out there, particularly fans of Odone's columns, that will like this but I'm not a fan and won't hurry to read any more stories about the awful Carews.
ISBN: 978-0007263653. Published by HarperPress in January 2009. The paperback has 320 pages, and has an RRP of £6.99.
Thank you for reading!