I admit here and now that I owe Jane Wenham-Jones a huge debt. It was reading her book “Wannabe a Writer?” that finally persuaded me to give writing a go after years of believing that I couldn’t do it any more and I will always be grateful to her for that. Even if nothing ever comes of it, I have enjoyed myself so much over the last couple of years that I would heartily recommend her book and its follow-up “Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of?” to anyone.
Having said that, I hadn’t read any of her novels in spite of meaning to for ages. When I saw that this novel was one of the ones nominated for an award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association I decided to give it a go. Having read various magazine columns, Tweets and Facebook comments from Jane I was pretty sure it would be a light, amusing read. What I wasn’t expecting was that it would also be surprisingly moving and would really make me think.
Laura is divorced from Daniel who has walked out on her due to his love for a stick thin, health obsessed, much younger woman. Laura feels fat, frumpy and washed-up. In her early forties, she suffers from low self esteem and treacherous hormones. But Laura’s life is about to change as a series of events lead to her becoming involved in reality television and with a gorgeous young director called Cal.
This novel is brilliant because, although Laura is quite self-deprecating, she’s not a quitter. She’s a devoted mum to her son Stanley and a loyal best friend to Charlotte, but both of these relationships cause her much angst and lead to her feeling even more of a failure. With Stanley seeming to be permanently sad after his parents’ divorce and apparently deeply unhappy at school, in spite of the kindness and concern of his teacher, and Charlotte oblivious to a looming crisis in her own life, it’s down to Laura to desperately try to make everything all right for everyone around her, in spite of the fact that she has a stressful and unsatisfying job, a demanding boss, raging PMT and a mother from hell.
Don’t for a minute think that this is a gloomy book, though. Laura is funny and Jane Wenham-Jones writes in such an easy, chatty manner that you could be listening to your best friend as she regales you with her tales of woe, while you both knock back the wine and tuck into the Maltesers, promising each other that you’ll fast tomorrow.
Stanley is beautifully drawn and your heart aches for him and for Laura as she battles her guilt and tries desperately to ensure that he is able to cope with his new circumstances – living apart from his father and settling in at high school.
She is a well-rounded heroine (no pun intended!) whose vulnerability is well-observed. This makes you really ache for her as her life spirals out of control and you just know that she is about to come a cropper. Poor Laura is always trying to do the right thing, but unwise associations, the monthly “curse” and, quite often to be honest, too much wine, leads her to somehow always making huge errors of judgement that just makes everything much more complicated.
Will Laura ever recover her shattered self-esteem after her divorce? Is Cal really all he seems? Can Stanley ever be happy again? Will Charlotte ever put down her wine glass long enough to open her eyes to what’s going on around her? And can garden gnomes ever be truly exciting? It’s all here in this lovely, thought-provoking novel. Its nomination is well-deserved and I’m now going to have great pleasure working my way through this writer’s other novels. 5/5