Review – My Husband Next Door

Author: Catherine Alliott
Enjoyment rating: 6/10
This is a literary novel; I think. It’s a love story (definitely a love story) but not a romantic love story (on the whole). You may by now have noticed that I find it difficult to categorise…
As the plot is important, and there’s something of a twist at the end, I shan’t provide any spoilers. Without giving away anything essential, I can say that the story is about Eleanor (Ella) who lives in a ramshackle farmhouse with her two teenage children. Her husband is a famous artist, Sebastian Montclair, who is now struggling to finish any paintings at all. He lives in a converted outhouse of the farm. Ella’s parents have a dysfunctional marriage, which reaches a critical point at the start of the novel. The story explores how the combination of circumstances affects Ella.
Ella is written in the first person. She is a maelstrom of disorderly emotions and the writing evokes this very well. In fact, at times I had to stop reading for several hours to calm down. She is by a long way the most believable character in the book.
Her husband, Sebastian, doesn’t feature very much in the action, but he’s very much at the heart of the story. The author uses great skill in showing how all the characters are aware of his presence, and how they respond to it.
The other characters are to a certain extent caricatures, although they permit some entertaining comedy. I particularly enjoyed one scene where Ella is receiving acupuncture treatment from her best friend (Acupuncture? What could possibly go wrong…?). Not all the comedy is successful, unless you like the ‘cringe with embarrassment’ school of comedy (which, personally, I don’t).
The reason I describe this as a literary novel is that it attempts a psychological rationale for the characters’ fates; it’s not simply about the outcome, but the way the outcome is achieved. There is a sense of negative actions and attitudes prompting further negativity in a downward spiral, and positive actions and attitudes similarly prompting a virtuous upward spiral. I’m not sure I found it convincing for these particular characters in their specific situation.
Even more importantly, I wasn’t convinced by the psychology of the painting, and the inability to finish. Never mind, it doesn’t spoil the read. This is definitely worth borrowing from the library!

Review – The year I met you

Author: Cecelia Ahern
Enjoyment score 7/10
This book is about Jasmine, a young woman who is (unwittingly) on a journey of self-discovery. She travels from a place where she’s falling apart but doesn’t realise it, towards a destination where she is once more enjoying life. During this period, her struggles affect the lives of those close to her, principally the man who lives opposite her (Matt Marshall, the ‘you’ of the title), her older sister, Heather, (who has Down’s Syndrome) and an über-sexy recruitment consultant.
The story is told by Jasmine in the first person, and it’s told powerfully. It has the same effect in places as someone shouting in the reader’s ear, which can be off-putting, but we go on listening because we want to know what happens next. And there is a twist. The narrator consistently refers to the man who lives opposite as ‘You’, very rarely mentioning his name. So, even as the reader is busy living the turmoil that is the narrator’s emotional life, we are also being urged to identify with the neighbour – for who is the narrator addressing if not the reader?
Jasmine’s character is well drawn. The author has used her actions to demonstrate who she is. Just to make sure that we don’t miss the way Jasmine is harming herself, the author describes the coping strategies used by Jasmine’s sister, Heather, to live a fulfilling life despite her disability. We are given a clear feeling for Jasmine’s inner life. It’s well worked out, and has a depth that repays exploration.
The characters of Heather and Matt Marshall are adequately described; the other ‘characters’ are plot devices.
I must confess that this book rather baffles me. When I started reading I was irritated by the central character, who is self-destructive in an erratic, hyper-emotional fashion. By the time I finished, I was wondering just how many of her characteristics I shared…