Newest Review: ... grandchildren in the play park every Thursday. Ray is George's age but different from him in every way; Ray is kind, active and attractiv... more
Sex and the Sixties
Thursdays in the Park - Hilary Boyd
Member Name: koshkha
Thursdays in the Park - Hilary Boyd
Advantages: An 'easy' read if that's what you like
Disadvantages: There are few surprises and lots of cliches.
It's an old joke but one that popped back into my mind whilst I was reading this book. What will people put themselves through in order to try to please their children ahead of trying to please themselves? If this book is an example, perhaps older people contemplating separation might feel the need to wait until their children are past caring.
'Thursdays in the Park' by Hilary Boyd caused quite a stir when it was published earlier this year primarily because the heroine and her love interest were both in, or near, their 60s. The media loved this sweet tale that reminded readers that there can be both love and passion between grannies and granddads and that falling in love was not the unique privilege of the young. I'm rather surprised that was seemingly such a surprise but then that might have something to do with my best friend at school who had a grandmother who was attempting to break Henry VIII's record for the number of marriages. Husband number five dropped dead at the wedding reception; husband number 6 was not far behind. It's never been in my mind that 60-year olds (and people older than that) had somehow signed up for a loveless life of celibacy.
I unashamedly despise chick lit so I didn't really expect to particularly enjoy lit in which the chick was more of an old boiler than a spring chicken. I'm too old (and my IQ is a good 40 points too high) to read the tales of 20-30 year old ditzy heroines who like to go shopping and keep falling in love with the wrong people which typically make up the genre. I'm also far too young to be reading 'Thursdays in the Park' but I couldn't resist seeing what all the fuss was about and when it came up as a cheap offer on Kindle I decided it was worth a gamble. Even if I didn't enjoy it, maybe my mum would. I forget exactly what I paid but you can get it on Amazon for as little as 20 pence although prices go up and down like a chick-lit heroine's spirits. I read it this week whilst I was travelling, thinking that what I needed to survive 5 hours of flights was something light, fluffy and a bit of a page turner.
~The Plot - not that there's a lot of it~
Jeanie has been married to George for three decades during which time they've done rather well for themselves. I'm not sure what George did for a living but thanks to inheriting the family home in a well-to-do area of London, he and Jeanie have a very comfortable life. She has a health food store, plays tennis and goes swimming with friends and enjoys taking her granddaughter, Ellie, for walks in the park. George likes to tinker with his collection of old clocks and play golf. But George has a plan to move to the countryside, sell up and enjoy a seaside retirement which isn't quite how Jeanie - sick of being referred to by him as 'old girl' - sees her twilight years playing out. Jeanie doesn't consider herself to be old and isn't ready for slippers and a lap rug. She's heading for a late-mid-life crisis and George seems blind to her protestations. Clearly he thinks Jeanie doesn't know her own mind whilst he knows 'what's good for her'.
Jeanie and George's daughter Chanty has an artist husband called Alex of whom her parents don't entirely approve. Chanty and Alex also encourage Jeanie to go along with George's plans, all the more so when Chanty discovers that whilst looking after her granddaughter on Thursday afternoons, Jeanie has been loitering in the park with an attractive grandpa called Ray. Thanks to Alex starting some unfortunate rumours about Ray, the budding friendship with Jeanie is put under pressure. What starts out innocently as two older people chatting in the park whilst 'walking' their grandchildren, soon turns into lots of furtive yearning and self-torture. Can Jeanie defy the demands of her daughter to give up Ray, should she follow her heart and can she break away from the man with whom she's spent more than half her life?
~Sex and the Sixties~
If the publicity has led you to expect a raunchy romp, a sort of '50 Shades of Grey Hair' then you will be very disappointed. If you prefer your literary sex to be strictly only when necessary and to be given the writer's equivalent of waves crashing on the beach in 'From Here to Eternity' then this book should be pretty acceptable. It's delightfully free of all the squelchy stuff. If you're expecting plenty of rumpy pumpy then you'll need to be patient - when it finally happens you'll be nearly three quarters of the way through the book and it's rather a 'blink and you'll miss it' business. I found the 'shall I, shan't I' torment of Jeanie as she tries to decide whether to fall, whether to run away, whether to give George a second chance and whether to continue being pushed around by a complete control freak, quite but not very interesting. I know these things happen, I know that these are not particularly interesting circumstances but the whole story has hidden shallows - there's just very little depth to this amateurish little novel.
I'm not a chick-lit expert (thankfully) but I found the standard of the prose to be painfully constructed and packed with cliché. In order to make our heroine a 'good girl' despite her bad intentions, we are given a background of a sexless marriage for the previous decade as if that somehow makes it OK for her to run off after sexy-Ray. When we eventually find out why George went cold on Jeanie all those years before, we're left wondering if it's actually true or just another aspect of his controlling nature. Having watched a friend of mine try to split with her husband who managed to just carry on acting as if everything was exactly like normal, I did find George's behaviour eerily believable and I would say he was the most fascinating character in this rather dull book. There are no surprises in the plot - no twists or unexpected turns and no plot devices that aren't well tested and well worn. The only difference from zillions of other novels of the genre is the age of the protagonists and I'm afraid that's really not enough to make this book in any way special.
Despite my better judgement and my expectations, by the time I'd slogged my way through the first two thirds of the book with a determination to 'get to the end even if it kills me', I was oddly starting to almost slightly care what happened at the end. I was pretty sure I knew exactly how it would end, but not 100% sure exactly how we'd get there. As the story sucked me in, I learned to ignore the clichéd writing and just let it flow over me. I enjoyed the pronouncements of the young granddaughter who calls Jeanie 'Gin' and comes out with some delightful phrases but occasionally spouts something that's grammatically way beyond her toddler years.
One aspect that I felt should have received a bit more exploration to make it seem a bit more 'real' was the financial impact of breaking up a long established marriage. The characters are all so well-heeled that Jeanie's 'Shall I, shan't I?' self-debate manages to ignore one of the most critical issues that would affect most women in her position; less 'Can I?' and more 'Can I afford to?' George is looking at properties for one and a half million pounds, Jeanie has her own shop with a flat over it and Ray has a flat with lovely views and an Aikido club. Nobody's going to be wondering where the next Sanatogen is coming from. In the 'real' world, the decisions she takes would have massively complex financial repercussions but in the 'love will conquer all' world, there's not a mention of how everyone will survive if they shake things up.
Chick lit is supposed to be about fantasy and light-hearted romance so I shouldn't perhaps be so harsh. My criticism is that of someone who thinks the world would be a better place without 'women's romantic fiction' and is no stronger for 'Thursdays in the Park' than for any other books of its type. If you love this sort of thing then you'll love this sort of book. If you'd rather stick pins in your eyes than read poorly written books with clearly sign-posted plots and predictable endings, then you'll perhaps feel like me and only finish it so you can be really rude about it after. Ignore my thoughts completely and take a look at the Amazon reviewers who almost universally adore this book. It had a solid 4-star rating with more people giving it 5 stars than any other rate. They can't all be wrong but you can be sure that none of them is me.
Summary: Bog standard chick lit with an older protagonist