Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Who Will Run The Frog Hospital?

I've mentioned before my penchant for a sad tale. So, in seeking inspiration for a tale of heartbreak, I Googled this very theme and the title that caught my eye was this one by Lorrie Moore. Although I'm not sure it met my initial brief (my heartstrings were left largely untugged), I did find this an intriguing tale of growing up and growing apart.

Berie Carr is grown up now, visiting Paris with her husband and some very large alarm bells sounding to the reader as regards the health of her marriage. While there, she reflects on a friendship lost and takes us back to a summer back in 1972 where, on the cusp of womanhood, events see the beginning of the end of her close bond with childhood friend, Silsby.

I felt Moore captured beautifully those heady days of adolescent summers and the intensity of teenage female friendships. It's difficult to read this book and not reflect back on your own schooldays, feeling the pinch of regret at losing touch with those you never questioned as being part of your everyday life. There is little dialogue in this book, more just the narrative of Berie's reflections as she recounts the moments, small at the time, which unleash a chain of events that separate and part; at first the break is dramatic, but then the drift sets in and the subtle changes occur to make their worlds very different.

The bittersweet tone was this novel's strength; however, I wasn't totally convinced by the overall flow. I don't think the reflections from modern day Paris were particularly coherent with the rest of the narrative or really added much; in places, I felt the modern day parts got in the way of the story's progression. I also felt the characters shifted a little too much towards the end, particularly Silsby; the girl the adult Berie described wasn't a convincing reflection of the grown up version she reveals later on.

I've read some reviews of this since which have suggested it would have been better as a short story rather than a short novel and I can't help but agree. As a wistful reflection on innocence lost and how people change over time, this was a great read. I'm not convinced, however, it was at its strongest as a short novel as I felt there was some padding out with the Parisian sections especially. Still, if you feel like stirring some memories of those lost summers of youth and reflecting on those friends from yesteryear, this isn't a bad book to trigger that. Plus I guess it's not a bad thing it wasn't too heartbreaking; there's nothing worse than trying to stifle a tear-y moment when packed in on public transport...

(Available from Amazon)

Saturday, 4 May 2013


Sometimes there's nothing better than indulging in a bit of guilty pleasure. For me, there is no pleasure more guilty than a bit of Jilly C.

In my view, Jilly Cooper is where chicklit begins and ends. Her characters are silly and frivolous and their world utterly incomprehensible to the everyday 21st century woman, but it's brilliantly escapist. Her heroines are glamorous, beautiful and sophisticated and they know it. They all date knee-weakeningly handsome men called Pendle or Lazlo. I know it's trashy and I know it's silly, but I just can't resist!

Part of her girls' names series, Prudence follows the same delicious formula as the rest of Jilly's novels. Prudence is a glamorous girl about town, spending her time in 1970s Chelsea attending oodles of fabulous parties. At one more dull affair she meets the dashing and aloof (textbook Jilly) Pendle Mulholland. After showing a little too much enthusiasm on their first encounter, Pendle blows cold. Prudence is confused, but delighted when he invites her to meet his family. Is she finally getting through to him?

His family, of course, are riotous and seem to be more interested in each other's partners than their own. The house is a chaotic world of parties and glamorous guests and Prudence finds herself in the middle of some curious family skeletons tumbling out the closet. The Mullhollands are all handsome and dashing and Prudence becomes increasingly intrigued by Pendle's woman-chasing brother Jack and elusive Ace (yes, really...).

The plot is full of twists and turns, all brilliantly over the top, and fast-paced. One needs to completely suspend disbelief, but for me Prudence was one of my favourites in the series. It is pure, unadulterated escapism which I found myself racing through. Even at its most ludicrous (who on earth is called Pendle or Ace in real life??), it is always entertaining.

Don't get me wrong, the book is terribly dated in places (I did find my eyes widening at some of the less PC remarks which would definitely not make it through an edit in contemporary chicklit!). However, it's so refreshing from much of the post-Bridget Jones women's fiction of today. Jilly's heroines are confident, strong and have great self belief. There is no calorie counting and fretting about appearance; in the land of Jilly, there is nothing that can't be fixed with a bit of lipstick, a stiff drink and a quick wash of the hair.

Sure, it's hardly the definition of feminism but it's fun. When immersed in this book I was no longer packed into a Tube carriage, I was at a fabulous party with handsome, improbably-named men. So, if you're looking for a bit of fun, definitely give this a try!

(Available in paperback and ebook from the Random House website)