I’ve read two books this week by much loved and established authors – Sinead Moriarty’s Mad About You and Catherine Alliott’s My Husband Next Door – that (I’ll be honest) didn’t entirely delight me. Now this is a situation I haven’t come across before since I’ve been a blogger. If the books had been my own purchases, I’d have let them both quietly disappear and no-one would be any the wiser. But they came from netgalley and the publishers. So should I just tell the publishers I won’t be reviewing? That seems so wrong on so many levels. How many times have I seen people say “I received this book from the publishers, and it hasn’t influenced my review”? I read an excellent blog post this morning – ah, here it is, by author Alison May – that helped me make my mind up. Alison mentioned that she wouldn’t review unless she could be 51% positive. That convinced me – on balance the count on both was at least 60%, so in for a penny…
This is the first Sinead Moriarty book I’ve ever read. I think that’s important to say that – I haven’t been through all the trials and tribulations of Emma and James’ ten year relationship from (and I’m relying on Amazon here) “the heartbreak of infertility, to the craziness of then becoming parents to two babies in one year, to coping with James losing his job, somehow they have always worked as a team”. I’ve just encountered the couple for the first time. Transplanted to London, I was struck by a rather petulant Emma not coping well with separation from her support network, making life a great deal more difficult for her husband James as he tries to make a success of his new coaching job with the London Irish rugby team. I really didn’t like her very much – she has a dream life, gorgeous husband striving for success, two wonderful children, a job as make-up artist to the stars, but she moans interminably about how difficult her life is and how she finds it difficult to make friends.
There were some things I loved though – Emma’s awkward attempts to make friends at the school gates, her experience at a neighbour’s house with women arranging children’s parties at Nobu and not eating the cupcakes, her relationship with Claire the babysitter, and her support for her larger-than-life sister and TV stylist Babs. Her mother’s a wonderful creation too – a very Irish mammy, overflowing with advice and malapropisms, very reminiscent of some of Marian Keyes’ best.
I was less convinced by her reaction to the marriage problems of her Irish friends – maybe readers of her earlier books knew the couple, I really couldn’t engage with their problems and arguments – and things went a little off the rails for me when the story turned into “family dealing with threatening stalker” halfway through. I was never in any doubt as to who the stalker was – I’m amazed it took James and Emma so long to work it out. The writing style was very readable, but some of the verbatim conversations were a bit too protracted to hold my attention. I’m sorry but this one just wasn’t for me – it’s getting excellent reviews on Amazon, so I think I might have been a little outside its target audience, and reading the other books first would undoubtedly have helped.
Catherine Alliott, however, is an author I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed in the past – the last one of hers I read was A Rural Affair, and, as you’ll see, I loved it and set off in pursuit of her back catalogue. But this one didn’t entirely work for me. We have the back story of a young Ella marrying artist Sebastian Montclair, a feted artist, who later loses both his golden touch and his relationship with Ella. Having moved to the countryside, Ella now lives in a farmhouse, earning a living as an illustrator of children’s books, and Sebastian lives in a loft in the grounds, the marriage over.
Ella shares her home with a pair of thoroughly obnoxious teenage children (well, I thought they were…) and a gender confused bantam, plus a wise elderly aunt of Sebastian’s living in one of her holiday lets in the grounds. The joy in her life comes through her unconsummated relationship with married gardener Ludo. Meanwhile, her father decides he’s had enough of life with her straight laced mother, and when he starts a relationship with another woman, her mother moves into another of Ella’s holiday lets.
I did really like the character of her sister – wonderfully slippery in shedding her responsibility for her difficult mother. I also rather liked the father and his sheer joy in the company of his dog-trainer girlfriend until things go a little too far. It really was a thoroughly enjoyable read in parts – I particularly liked the night away in the hotel, and some of the images as her mother makes her own way towards a transformation. But the promised twist came a little too out-of-the-blue for me – I even read back to see if there were obvious clues I’d missed – and the ending was a little too neat.
Catherine Alliott writes well, and her touches of humour are generally very well judged: however I had a real problem engaging with Ella and her lifestyle, and I think that made it more difficult to engage with the book when everything is seen through her eyes. This wasn’t a bad book by any means – just not for me on this occasion. Try A Rural Affair instead – I loved that one…
My thanks to netgalley and publishers Penguin Books UK for the advance reading e-copies.