Anna Hope
ARRSE Rating
0.5 Mushroom Heads
This book fits firmly into the genre known as ‘chick lit’ and is written to appeal to ‘women’. It claims to be a moving exploration of love, lust, motherhood and feminism, while asking the greater question of what defines a generation. This is the author’s first fiction novel, and given her biography in the blurb, I assume it is representative of her own experiences .

It tells the story of three women, over a period of fifteen years or so, what happens to them and how they feel about it, without really coming to any conclusion except that life is complicated and we have to make the best of it.

It really appears to me to have been written by formula:

  • Lovely descriptions of nature, sunrises, parts of old London no longer around - check
  • Lesbian explorations – check
  • Smoking weed –check
  • casual sex – check
  • Aggressive feminism - check
  • sex scenes with clichés as well as clinches – check
  • Oxford Graduate doing ‘honourable’ work with poor people – check
  • Woman desperate for a baby – check
  • Woman guilty because of earlier abortion - check
  • Greenham Common protesters portrayed as peaceful, singing, lovely ladies rather than aggressive, noisy, dirty harpies – check
  • Zig-zagging back and forth between past and present – check
  • Sneering references to the efforts of those who fought for the Allies in two world wars – check
  • References to serious books no-one has read but everyone has heard of - check
  • Trite ending with the next generation (female members only) looking to the future – check.
I may have come to this novel at the wrong time in my ‘reading cycle’, the previous books having been Alistair Urquhart’s achingly heartrending ‘Forgotten Highlander’, and ‘Hell’s Foundations’, a book by Geoffrey Moorhouse about the impact on Bury of the loss of so many Lancashire Fusiliers in the first landings at Gallipoli. I could not get to like any of the characters in this book, let alone care what happened to them, and spent a lot of time fulminating that this generation, only twenty years behind mine, seems to want to be defined as a bunch of selfish, ill-educated by Oxbridge, vapid, entitled virtue-signallers with no strength of character, who buckle at the first sign of things not going their way, despite the trails blazed by my generation, the one before theirs (first female Engineering student at Cambridge, first female FTSE 500 Company Chairman, Scientists, Doctors, Surgeons, Historians, Bankers, you name it, one or two of us got there).

Any points the author was trying to make are lost in the mess of keeping to the London Literati checklist for a successful novel. I do not recognise the cover descriptions of ‘perceptive and emotionally wise’, ‘Beautiful, sharp, moving ‘and ‘will resonate with approximately 99% of women’. The lives of these characters are quite unlike the lives of the hundreds of people I have met in my upbringing, education, 40 years of work for different companies throughout the UK, and travel around the world.

Before attempting her next novel I would advise the author to read widely, all sorts of books - biographies, novels, detective fiction, historical fiction, 20th century history, to read older books as well as those taught in English Literature Degrees today, even to read some Mills and Boon, to learn more about creating characters that are realistic, likeable and well-drawn and scenarios that make the reader actually care about them. She should also consider mixing with a greater range of different people. This would widen the appeal of her work to people who have dealt with life in all its glorious and gruesome details and come through them older, stronger and possibly wiser.

Half a mushroom head awarded for some rather lovely descriptions.

With that, I am now re-reading ‘Mansfield Park’. In terms of social observation and character definition, it knocks this novel into a cocked hat.

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