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The Play Date is the debut novel by Louise Millar which centres around two mothers, Callie and Suzy. Callie is a single parent, tentatively contemplating a return to employment after looking after her daughter, Rae, who was born with a heart condition. Suzy is a stay at home mother to her three children and the two establish a friendship as they live on the same street.
I must admit that I found this difficult to get into initially. The opening chapter struck me as being distinctly odd and I struggled to establish any connection with the two main characters. The disparity between their situations was made clear but their friendship seemed quite forced and artificial. The whole situation seemed a little implausible but, more than that, I didn''t really build up any sense of being curious about the back story or particularly caring about the characters and what may eventually happen to them. The introduction of a new neighbour was quite poorly done and I found the author''s attempts to build up a sense of anxiety and suspense largely ineffective.
A few chapters in and I did engage more with this story. I could particularly empathise with Callie''s struggles (both practical and emotional) as a working mother and the conflict she experienced trying to do her best as both a parent and an employee. This was the most realistic aspect of the story although I still struggled to believe fully in the character of Callie''s young daughter.
I did enjoy the various twists and turns of the story. I felt how the author had totally manipulated my perceptions of Tom, the ex-partner was very cleverly done. I started off by feeling a real sense of dislike towards him and his disregard of the needs of Callie and Rae, having him down as a selfish absent parent. As more and more bits of information were drip fed through the story, I slowly began to see things from his perspective and could appreciate how difficult the situation was for him too.
There is an increasingly sense of tension and trepidation that builds steadily towards the end of the story and I was keen to discover how things were going to be resolved. There is a definite sense of foreboding but the ultimate outcome was far from what I had imagined, although I had, rightly, anticipated a twist from the obvious scenario.
I have mixed feelings about this story with a slow start and a pretty implausible ending. The basic premise is a good one and I liked the sections that dealt with more usual aspects of parenting. The overlapping stories, coincidences and unlikely events did stretch my patience a little too far, however, and I struggled to believe in the main characters. It was still a relatively enjoyable read overall but I would actually recommend the subsequent novel by Louise Millar, Accidents Happen, rather than this one.
The title of this book is a little misleading in all honesty as the story is less about a one-off playdate that goes wrong as the blurb would suggest, than about what lies behind the twitching curtains of three women in a suburban London street. There's Callie, the single mother of Rae the sickly school age child, Suzy the American mother of three with the absent husband and Debs who has just moved in and seems to have a mysterious past. As the story unfolds we find out that what lies behind the veneer of normality is increasingly sinister, and the three men in the story have their parts to play as lives interconnect and all is not as it seems.
The story was fairly well crafted with lots of twists and turns, and quite well paced. I like the fact that every time I thought I'd made my mind up about a character something would change it, and the dilemma that Callie faces of whether to go back to the world of work with all its changes and effects to the school run was one that I fully related to. That said, and the reason why I would give this book 3 and a half stars if there were an option, I did struggle with the fact that I didn't find any of the characters in this book particularly likeable. Suzy's over use of the word "hon" grated on me, the reader, as much as it did on others around her, I found the children in the book particularly whiney whilst strangely one dimensional and ultimately I didn't really care what happened to the characters at all, why I'm not entirely sure. I don't think I ever really believed in the characters or their story.
I'm glad I read this book as it was interesting however I'm not sure it's quite the book I expected it to be. It's a fairly good Summer read but be prepared to feel something less than female solidarity with the characters and for the book to fail to leave you with much food for thought or to make a lasting impression.
Book currently £4.95 on Amazon - I read a review copy