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I first heard about this book after reading a review of it on Dooyoo and thought it was just the kind of book that I would really enjoy so I went onto Amazon and found a hardback copy for about £2 which I thought was a great bargain.
The Pile of Stuff at the bottom of the stairs is not a relationship book in that it does not tell you how to have the perfect relationship but it does deal with relationships, and one in particular, that of the main character Mary Gilmour and her husband Joel. I'm married and have two small children and what attracted me to this book was that it was all about the same situations I find myself in on a day to day business. Marriage is hard and there is no denying that and we need to work at our relationships but sometimes you just want to let it all out and tell your husband exactly what you think about him and all the annoying things he does!!
The tag line on the book says, "What's the thing you hate most about the one you love?" Mary then references, "The pile of stuff at the bottom of the stairs," talking about how her husband goes up the stairs ignoring all the stuff she has put there during the day that needs taking upstairs.
The back of the book describes the story as such, "Mary Gilmour feels as though her life is going down a plug hole clogged with cornflakes and Play-Doh. Her job is part time but housework is full time, and she has no time at all for her two young sons. Mary is convinced that there is only one thing standing between her and organised contentment: his name is Joel and she's married to him. Since star charts have worked on improving the behaviour of their children, she designs an equivalent for her husband: a spreadsheet detailing every balled-up tissue, every sock on the floor, every wet towel on the bed. Although he has no idea of it, Joel has six months to prove that his credits outweigh his debts. Or else...
This book did make me laugh in several places as there were so many familiar situations that I have found myself in. The funny thing is though I am the messy one and my husband is the clean one so our roles are reversed to the characters in this book. The characters were good and developed well although at times I wanted to shout at Mary because I thought she was taking things a bit too far.
This was sort of a chic lit book but I think a bit of an intellectual step up from the more trashy ones on the market today. Just like me I think this book will definitely appeal if you are married and have kids. The book has an ISBN of 978-1-444-71039-7 and is written by Christina Hopkinson.
To outsiders it looks like Mary, at 35, has it all; the husband, Joel who everyone loves, two children and a part time job to boot, the only problem is she's starting to feel she's doing it all too, the tidying up, organising and the daily drudge. She decides to fight back in some way by creating "The List" to keep track of her husband's domestic misdemeanors, large and small, to work out if he's making her life less difficult or is no asset at all. Will six months of living with the list prove his worth or change things forever?
"The Bottom of the Stairs" takes as its starting point the truth that all mums know to be true - in parenting there's no equal sharing out of duties, and women are still the ones who organise the day to day whilst dads get to pick up the fun bits. I found myself virtually nodding as I read the first few chapters of the book, Christina Hopkins has accurately portrayed British family life, and so many things rang true. From the weekend parental negotiation for time out from the kids, to the hideous realisation that you have become the kind of person who has a "present drawer", or the daily battle to try and stop your house from being in total child-created chaos, there was so much that I could relate to, and many real laugh out loud moments.
This is a light and entertaining read, that is well written and well paced. I read it in under 2 days, with ease. It is a book best enjoyed probably by those who have had children in all honesty and it's very much a book aimed at women, probably women who are a little bit like Mary - this book is firmly set in Middle England.
I found the characters were both likeable and believable, though I did think that Joel suffered somewhat from being a bit of combination of absolutely all of the annoying things that women say that men do - I wondered whether the author had maybe been researching on a mums' internet forum or similar, and at points I did find myself wanting to tell her to let the housework go and worry about stray jigsaw pieces a little less. That said the book kept my interest throughout and a cast of interesting and eclectic friends added nice twists to the plot as Mary starts to realise that, actually, maybe no one is perfect. Though the ending was somewhat predictable, this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book, which I read when in all probability I should have been tackling my own pile at the bottom of the stairs.
I think Christina Hopkinson has captured the way many working women feel from time to time, in an entertaining, humourous and interesting way - I really liked this book and highly recommend it.
I read a review copy, kindly provided by Amazon as part of the Vine Programme - this review first appeared there.
Details from Amazon, where the book is currently available, in hard back, for £8.95 (£5.99 paperback)
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; First Edition edition (3 Mar 2011)
This is a review of the book 'the pile of stuff at the bottom of the stairs' by Christina Hopkinson. A sticker on the front of the book tells me 'if you love outnumbered (TV Programme) you'll love this book. It's about how a build up of all the little niggly things can ruin a perfectly good relationship.
Mary Gilmore is a wife, mother and part time TV producer and she's feeling the strain on her relationship, family and being 'part time' at work. Her husband Joel does things like leaves wet towels on the bed and leaves a mess in the kitchen and it's frankly beginning to annoy her that she does the bulk of the house work and child care and no one is saying thanks.
Mary begins a list on her computer, scoring Joel minus marks every day for his misdemeanours. She is building towards using the list as a reason for divorce and calmly continues her life alongside this. She is also heading towards total meltdown, dabbling with a lesbian and comparing her relationship with Joel against others' which are seemingly ideal.
I loved reading this book and found it really funny. My favourite bit is about how Joel never empties the dishwasher or puts the shopping away when he doesn't know where it lives eg. "Black eyed peas? hum 'where is the love' and leave it on the side. LOL!
I did think Mary was quite neurotic and paranoid and far too bothered about her house being immaculate - she was truly missing out on the fun times with her two boys and Joel and needed to 'chillax' a bit about it. Having said that, some of the things on the list rang total bells with me and I'm sure they would do too. If you wanted to leave a hint to your partner about pulling their weight you could leave a copy of this book lying about!
The book is published in 2011 so is very modern and up to date. It raises complex issues about how relationships and work should be equal these days but even modern feminist man Joel misses this point sometimes.
I would recommend this book to all and sundry, everyone will find something in it that will amuse them or that they will agree with. I loved that Christina Hopkinson in her acknowledgements mentions that she got some ideas for the list from the mums at the school gates. What a great idea!
A full 5/5 stars from me on this book. Get hold of a copy when you can.
The pile of stuff at the bottom of the stairs by Christina Hopkinson
'You don't see how much I do. And how little you do.'
'Like what?' he says, finally.
'I don't know, it's not like I keep a list,' I said.
'Maybe you should.'
'Maybe I will.'
Mary is a 35 year old part time worker, full time mother, and what feels like full time house cleaner and maid to her three boys, husband (Joel) and two adorable children (Gabe and Rufus). Mary decides that in a life where she has very little control over the small every day things, such as tidying up the pile of junk at the bottom of the stairs, or picking up the dirty clothes from the floor that she needs to take some sort of action. Her stress levels are going through the roof as her temper is taking over all other emotions, but she can't find a way to make Joel understand. So she decides to make a list over the course of six months outlining all the things that Joel does or doesn't do, or messes up around the house. The list isn't all negatives, in order to be fair Joel also gets points awarded for nice gestures, such as compliments or playing with the children. The list starts off as a bit of therapy, a list just to show her husband what he does on a regular basis over a period of six months that just doesn't help, makes her life harder or downright annoys the hell out of her. However, along the way the list becomes a bit of a refuge, somewhere she can release the anger of yet another dirty tissue left lying around or another set of breakfast dishes that aren't cleaned.
The story is about what happens after the fairytale 'happy ending', it is about relationships, friendships and the daily grind of it all. However, this book is far from a miserable rant, it is also about all the good things in a long term relationship and the real joys of great friends and family moments. I don't think my summary has done complete justice to the book, it is a funny and insightful look into the world of a working mother who dreams about having everything under control, as well as having all the dirty socks exactly where dirty socks belong.
I read the first couple of pages of this in the book store and I knew from that moment that this was going to be something which I would enjoy. I found this book and the writing style really easy to read and I seemed to finish it in no time whatsoever. The book was very easy just to pick up and dip into without requiring the attention of longer sessions. It wasn't a book that I struggled to get caught up in, in fact it was quite the opposite, I struggled to put it down.
I loved the two main characters of Mary and Joel, the details of their relationship was at times brilliantly written and filled with the all tiny elements that make up a relationship and therefore made theirs seem real to me. I loved the bit of the book describing all their hopes for their first born child, where Joel made a beautiful home mixed selection of music to play at the birth. For me Christina managed to capture the unreal excitement and expectations as well as the gritty realistic truth that early relationships have and then the comfort of later years.
Some of the side characters, such as Mitzi, Mary's long time friend seemed at times a bit overly stereotypical and almost over exaggerated and she did grate on me. However, on finishing the book and reflecting back Mitzi might have been written perfectly for the part she ends up playing in Mary's life.
Although this book didn't have me rolling around on the floor laughing out loud it did have a few occasions where I had the odd chuckle to myself. There are of course a lot of annoying habits that most of us in a long term relationship are either responsible for or have a partner that does it. There was more than one occasion where I thought Mary really hit the nail on the head with how annoying a certain behaviour can be when it's repeated and repeated and repeated. There is a lot in this book that I believe people in a long time relationship will recognise and sympathies with, or even do themselves.
The one small criticism that I did have of this book was that I didn't love the cover. In fact it almost stopped me from picking it up in the book store as I was much more initially attracted to its neighbour, and what a shame that might have been. Personally, I just don't think the cover gives you any idea about the type of quirky, funny and interesting novel that this is.
This is Christina Hopkinson's second novel, but she is an author I will look out for in the future.
What's the thing you hate most about the one you love?
Recommended. Five out of five stars.
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback edition available from March 2011
Hardback edition - 402 pages, £12.99