Danielle Steelathon X – Lightning pub. 1996
Again, with this challenge I seem to be veering from unspeakable blinding rage to mild mannered simpering ‘ahhhh’ness. This brought out the former, predictably enough, and by the end of the book I was almost stomping on it.
You might have noticed I have failed miserably in my ‘book a day’ ethos, but that is because I snobbishly predicted Steel’s books to all be about 200 pages long in a fat type. No so. This book covered almost 500 pages at what I am guessing was a point 12, and took me a shameful three days to read, mostly because I was attempting to *have a life* at the same time, but there you go.
Alexs is a highly “successful” (by Steel’s standards of success ie money/man/Immigrant Housekeeper at any rate) lawyer in her early forties, living with her financial whizzkid husband Sam and their sweet as pie daughter in New Yoik. Everything is going well for her, apart from not being able to get pregnant again, though not for enthusiastic want of trying.
Then ‘lightning’ (shameless insertion of slightly inappropriate title phrase- check) strikes. At a regular mamogram screening, a lump is found. Alex is diagnosed with breast cancer and has a mastectomy. This is followed by six months of chemotherapy where she looses her hair, gains weight and is incredibly ill, and yet continues to work throughout.
Now I know (touch wood) very very little about cancer, braest cancer or its treatments. Yes I’ve lost family members to it, but I don’t *know* about it. So I have no way of sayign how Steel portrays the disease and how Alex copes with it is accurate or truthful but it is so unbeliveable affecting, and reads well researched and correct. I was in bits. Utter utter bits. First Steel to make me cry. Alex is the sort of woman that Diane Keaton used to play, and her trying to stay strong and be there for her daughter whilst she is almost loosing her mind as well as her body just made me weep small tears. If you have loved ones you have lost to this disease, don’t read this book.
My sobbing was not helped by the other side of this book. Her husband, Sam, behaves like a complete and utter shit throughout. His mother apparently died of cancer when he was a boy, leaving him in the care of his alcoholic father. In his head then, when Alex becomes ill she is doing it ‘on purpose’ to make things more difficult for him. He does not come with her to any of her doctors, dissappears half way through her surgery, and when she shows him her scars for the first time, runs to the arms of his young sexually promiscuous mistress, the cousin of his dodgy business partner. The things he says to Alex during her illness, such as how she should cope with it and why should he be exspected to look after her (because you are her partner you fuck) made me so so so angry I kind of forgot he was a fictional character and started hating men again. I’ve stopped that now, as they can be lovely, but still *rage, unstoppable blinding rage*.
Alex however gets together with her lovely sweet kind generous caring protecting compassinoate colleague Brock. He is lovely. We like him. They are off holidaying together, he loves her daughter, all is well. I was getting ready for a big white wedding and then…
…SHE GOES BACK TO HER HUSBAND
And this is when I stopped having respect for anyone, really. I mean, wtf? He leaves you crying on the bathroom floor after berrating you for removing your wig so you can puke your guts up in more comfort, just in case you offend his sensibilities with your cancer, and you take him back? What is wrong with the world!
And thats when I discovered the main flaw with Steel’s books; none of the protagonists have friends. They have lovers, and families, and collegues and Immigrant Housekeepers, but they never just have friends. If one of my friends was sick like this and her partner treated her the way Sam does I would smack him, pack her stuff up for her and lend her money for the dipposit on her new flat, because no one deserves to be treated with that little respect. If my partner did this to me I would expect my frieds to do the same. And then if I were to take them back, well I’d fully understand why we were no longer friends any more. I don’t care how special or rare or perfect your love is *he was an utter utter shit to you once, which means he will be again and you don’t stay with that* Period.
This book is also the one that made me crack. On Thursday last week I read the three opening chapeters of Pursuasion. Its one of my favourite books and just so beautifully written, and was looking at me so forcefully, I couldn’t help myself.
So yes, I have failed. But I’m going to continue, because there is only four to go. And quite frankly I’m glad, because I could not take another book like this one.