“Writing a NYT bestseller was a delightful experience. But there are many books which are read by few that should be read and reread by many, as well as books bought by many that are hardly worth the ink.” ― Ron Brackin
I don’t enjoy posting bad reviews, I enjoy writing them – it’s incredibly cathartic – but I don’t enjoy posting them, so I’ll try and keep this short…
I was travelling to London one afternoon and regretfully forgot to pack something to read; terrified of the idea of a train journey without reading material I ducked into the station’s WHSmith and went to peruse the bestsellers and new releases. I found this one, and didn’t really give much thought to the blurb, silly I know, I guess I was in the mood for a winter’s tale.
I wish I had remembered to pack my book that day, or picked up something different when I went into WHSmith, or been late for the train and had to gaze out of the window for an hour and a half, and more than anything I wish I’d stopped reading this when I realised how much I disliked it, but once I started I felt compelled to keep going.
This book is about a childless couple, Dan and Olivia, who after years of trying to conceive decide to use an egg donor, in one final attempt to fall pregnant. The problem lies with Olivia, and using an egg donor is the only chance they have. Unfortunately, Olivia is married to a complete narcissistic arsehole, who openly admits he would not be able to love the child on someone he doesn’t know. Luckily for Dan and Olivia, Dan has an old university friend, and borderline psychopath, by the name of Francesca, who is obsessively in love with Dan, and offers to allow them the use of her eggs. Sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? Of course Olivia cannot know, and this is where the story begins.
Fast forward a couple of years and Olivia and Dan, having been blessed with twins and after spending the first few years of the babies’ lives with Olivia’s family in Argentina, make plans to return to the UK – but they have nowhere to live. Meanwhile Francesca’s husband decides he wants to buy an enormous derelict manor house as a renovations project. Francesca, being the mentalist that she is, sees the perfect opportunity to have the twins nearby and invites Dan and Olivia to live onsite and look over things.
After they move in the house beings to ‘surrender its long held secrets’ – this occurs in the form of several chapters given over to a time in the 1950s when the hall was an all girls school. I held out hope that this part of the story would make the book more exciting, but it didn’t. There was nowhere near enough historical background to make up for the rest of the book.
I won’t bore you with more details, mainly because it is hugely predictable and I am sure you can see where this is going. So let’s just say Francesca makes a nuisance of herself and eventually all hell breaks loose.
So, aside from the fact that the storyline did absolutely nothing for me – I could have forgiven that and just put it down to not being quite my thing – it was the absolutely detestable characters which made the book unbearable.
I’ve already established that Francesca is mental and Dan is a narcissist. Sure, I didn’t like these characters, but I didn’t feel anywhere near as much outright hatred as I did for Olivia.
Olivia has absolutely nothing going for her, she is weak, one-dimensional, and just so horribly dull, add to this her over-emphasised obsession with food and you have the perfect recipe for the worst character of all time. When she isn’t thinking about, looking after or admiring her children, Olivia is thinking about food – it could be something as simple as thinking about giving her children a cracker or preparing them lunch, or a passing thought about the ‘indulgent creaminess’ of a cheesecake she has made, but it is relentless. Olivia is cooks a meal and it smells delicious, she serves the meal, she admires her work, she savours every bite of the food, or sometimes, just to jazz things up a bit, she neglects to taste the food, while somehow still managing comment on it, because she is so preoccupied with something else. I found this incredible annoying. I wouldn’t have minded as much if she was portrayed as an out and out foodie, but she isn’t. She’s just an incredibly boring woman who happens to think about food a lot.
I thought nothing could make me dislike Olivia more, but then I got to the climax of the story, the chapter when all hell breaks loose, and ordinarily you can’t bear to put a book down. In this scene, having found out Dan and Francesca’s deep, dark secret, Olivia is transformed into a ‘mighty goddess’ ready to rip the ever-living hell out of Francesca. This is the one time she does anything other than lie down and take a good shoeing from everyone around her, but, far from making her into a more believable character, the scene is so horribly clichéd and badly written that she just sounds ridiculous.
‘Let them go!’ cries Olivia in a terrible voice, full of strength and fury. She feels able to lift Francesca up and toss her against the wall. She feels she could crush her with her fingertips, she is so strong and fierce.
That’s right, Olivia is ‘strong and fierce’ with a ‘terrible voice’. You do not want to mess with her, and if you haven’t quite got that impression yet, then this next part will really drive home just how badass she is:
Olivia nestles both children to her chest, their bodies awkward against hers. They press into her, crying loudly. ‘Never, never touch these children again. They are mine do you understand?’ Her eyes are flashing and she is mighty, a mighty goddess who will destroy anyone who threatens her children. ‘They are mine and you can’t have them!’
So there you have it, I thought that this book was a waste of the paper it was written on. It was ill-conceived, predictable, sloppy, and above all badly written.
Let this be a warning to all of you who are so determined to have something to read on a train journey that you pick up something from WHSmith. You could find something fantastic – the last time I did this I discovered The Shock of the Fall and it made me reckless – but you could end up with a massive wet fish. Now I’m off to donate this thing to charity, or leave it on a park bench, or, more than likely, to cut out the middle man and send it straight to the pastry cooks on Duck Lane.