Strangely, for a summer that should surely be made of entirely superfluous ‘beach reads’, where drippy Modern Women find there feet and stand up to their philandering husbands/ bosses/ bank managers etc etc ad naseum, the last few books I’ve read have been very intense.
I am blaming this entirely on my friend B. B knows about the Book Lust (poor chap had to live with it for a couple of years so knows more that most!) and that I cannot say no, unfortunately, neither can they. So when eight Mills and Boons turned up in a a skip outside B’s house, and I get a text saying ‘I’ve got a present for you’…well you can see where this is going.
‘The Highland Barbarian’ by Ruth Langan was great fun for a couple of days train read. Predictably inflammatory heroine Meredith’s father and betrothed are killed by the evil Barbarian Brice, who of course kidnaps her, storms of to his castle and reveals that he is actually not evil, and was set up, they fall in love and have lots of tender yet solid hanky panky on some furs. What really stood out for me in this incredibly researched and historically accurate tome was the guest appearance of non other than Mary Queen of Scots- for what historical romance is complete without a guest appearance from our favourite French hussy?
Now I have to say, *This Review Contains Spoilers*, because its absolutely impossible to talk about WNTTAK without mentioning somewhere the main plot of the book, a mother’s worries and concerns over her teenage son, Kevin, who has killed 9 people in a high school massacre in 2000. The mother, Eva, is writing to her estranged husband, Franklin, about her life from before Kevin’s birth, when she was a jet setting business woman with a very successful publishing firm, to the present day, living in a small house near the prison her son is incarcerated in and working part time in a travel agency with a mixture of boring office types who flit from one piece of semi-topical water cooler banter to the next, their normality in stark contrast to Eva’s infamous son’s.
This book is absolutely fantastic. Although the writing style of the letters is rather “done”, Shriver puts a fresh twist on it by making her narrator both competent, eloquent and thorough, but at the same time admittedly incredibly unreliable. Unlike The Long Song by Andrea Levy, which I have also just finished, this device does not appear ‘tacked on’ but an intrinsic part of the content, and vital to the success of the book in that it really makes you think.
This book made me reconsider my wish to bear children. I am currently not a mother, but as a fertile hormonal twenty something it would be wrong of me to deny the thought of tiny feet had not crossed my mind with some seriousness on the odd occasion. This book genuinely terrified me. Shriver’s depiction of a clever, successful woman with whom I could in some way identify (she too over thinks everything, loves Victoriana and world travel, considers herself fairly liberal-at least more so than her quite frankly boorish and boring conservative Death-Of-A-Salesman husband (hate Franklin, hate him)), and how her world collapses with her inability to bond with her child, her child’s strange tendencies towards to psychotic, and her frustrations about the lack of support available from others, especially her useless husband, who does not believe her when she complains about her son’s behaviour, made for many sleepless nights considering the reasons I want to have children, and whether they are good enough. Eva has her son because she has reached a stage in her life when she feels she should have one. I do not want to get to that stage, I want to have a child out of love for it, because it would make me ‘complete’, thought whether that is morally right is looking increasingly ambiguous. I also do not want a child with a man I ‘love’ who then turns up to be as useless and pathetic as Franklin, which could quite easily happen. This genuinely terrifies me, and Shriver has brought all these semi-repressed feelings to the top of my head, using as simple a form as fiction. What an achievement.
Eva is complex and fascinating, she explores very deep emotions openly as possible. Although the book has received some criticism from some mothers that, as a woman who does not have children, Shriver has no ‘right’ to write about parenting so disparagingly, I believe that she is quite insightful. This is the sort of book I wish my mother was alive for, because you really want to ask ‘did you feel that with me? Was I that awful?’. I will definitely be recommending this book sparingly, as if you are pregnant, planning on being so, or easily swayed into reconsidering life choices by fiction then this book is not the one for you. It is a very worthy prize winner, because its so well written, although it did take me about 100 pages to really get gripped by (a lot of other reviews say the same thing, its definitely worth bending the 50 page rule for). This book has really got people talking, and if you are wanting a book to liven up your office then I’d say lend it round your colleagues because it definitely will. I wish almost it wasn’t so literaray, as the eloquent style may put off people for whom discussing the themes and events of this book might be really important and empathetic.
Ten out of Ten. Full Marks. Just be warned- it will change you.