This book is a definite return to form after the disappointing True Confessions. In this episode of Adrian’s life, he is 24 years old, and living in a box room in the flat of Pandora Braithwaite and her husband(!) However, he spends much of the book being bounced from one home to another.
He also encounters a new love interest named Bianca, jealousy over the success of his old adversary Barry Kent, and the trials of trying to finish his own novel ‘Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland’.
This book is what all Adrian Mole books should be – funny, touching and surprisingly perceptive on behalf of the author, while Adrian himself still displays his usual signs of self-delusion. Very enjoyable indeed.
(For more information on the Adrian Mole series, please click here.)
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Dawn French is of course well known as one half of the comedy duo French and Saunders (Jennifer Saunders is in fact the “Fatty” referred to in the book’s title). This is Dawn’s biography of sorts – it is told in the form of various letters to people who have played some role in her life.
Many of the letters are written to her father who committed suicide when Dawn was just 19 years old. The memories of him and his love have clearly been a huge force in her life and she writes honestly and openly about the good and the bad times she spent with him. Other letter recipients include her mother, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn’s husband Lenny (Henry), her Best Friend (BF, whose name is never revealed in the book), old schoolfriends, Val Doonican, Madonna and The Monkees.
Some parts of the book read better than others. The earlier letters, which more or less chart Dawn’s childhood and early family life were not as interesting as the later ones, which tell her life from the age of about 20.
Family is clearly of huge importance to her – when she writes about her parents, husband and daughter and her brother, the love comes shining through and is genuinely touching. I admired her honesty in talking about a rough patch her marriage went through – she described her whole gamut of emotions, from anger to fear to forgiveness in a way that was easy to empathise with. Another letter which actually moved me to tears (and highlighted the perils of reading while waiting in a supermarket queue) was the one to her friend Scottie, who died of AIDS – yet she juxtaposes the sadness with a hilarious tale about her mission to scatter Scottie’s ashes in the location he had intended.
Comic relief (no pun intended) is provided through a number of her letters to Madonna (who repeatedly refused to appear on the French and Saunders show) and doting-schoolgirl missives to The Monkees and David Cassidy. I also enjoyed reading about the early days of the Comic Strip, and her work on The Vicar of Dibley.
Overall, after a slow start, this was an enjoyable read, which perfectly illustrated the warmth and humour for which Dawn French is so much admired and loved.
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Michael Adams loves his wife and his two children very much. But he also loves his own space, and that’s why he spends a lot of time in his flat which he shares with three other men, where he can be as lazy as he likes, do the odd bit of work, and then go home to his family when he wants to spend time with them. It’s not that he doesn’t like being with them – it’s just that he finds being a father is so demanding. Michael thinks that his arrangement allows him the best of both worlds…but his wife Catherine doesn’t know about his other life. She thinks that when he is away from home, he is working hard earning money to support his family. It all works fine, until inevitably Catherine finds out what he’s really been doing when he’s not at home…
I loved this book. Told from Michael’s point of view, it was very believable and touching – and it was also laugh out loud funny, with a good giggle on almost every page. The funny moments are mainly due to Michael’s attempts to keep his secret life hidden from his family, and there are many near misses.
Although Michael behaves in a less than admirable way, he is a very likeable character. He is also very well drawn, as are the other characters including the peripheral ones. There are many touching moments, especially where Michael examines the reasons why he feels the way he does about fatherhood.
His wife is also a hugely likeable character, and her sense of frustration at her husband’s absences (even when she believes that he is genuinely working) are very well depicted.
The writing flows easily and kept me turning the pages. It certainly caused me to stay up late on a few nights, because I kept thinking “just a few more pages.” The story had a surprising twist at the end, which I genuinely did not see coming.
I’ve read – and enjoyed – John O’Farrell’s non-fiction before now, and this was the first time I had read his fiction. It certainly won’t be the last. I now intend to seek out all other books by this author! Highly recommended.
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This is the story of three generations of one family. Charlotte Cooper is 17, about to do her A levels, and suddenly discovers she’s pregnant. Her mother Karen is furious with her, not least because she had Charlotte at the age of 16, and has always tried to stop her daughter making the same “mistakes” that she did. But it’s not long before Karen finds something out which makes her question her role in her family and wonder whether there isn’t a better life waiting for her somewhere. Meanwhile, Karen’s mother, Nancy Hesketh, who lives with them, is slowly succumbing to dementia, which is causing all sorts of chaos. But when she’s not posting her grandaughter’s homework in the toaster, or hiding letters under the sofa, she reminisces silently about her life.
This is a very enjoyable and undemanding read. The multiple narrators (Charlotte, Karen and ‘Nan’) ensure that we see events from each point of view – although Nan’s contributions are generally short and relate to the past rather than the present situation. The main body of the story is told through Karen and Charlotte’s narration.
All of the three main characters are believeable. The constant locking of horns between Charlotte and her mother will also have many teenagers and parents of teenagers nodding in recognition! The story is touchingly told, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well.
My only niggle with this book was the ending seemed rushed, almost as if the author had said what she wanted to say and just wanted to end the book quickly, and a few smaller aspects of the story did not seem completely resolved. But overall, this is a good book – probably aimed more at the female market – and one which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to.
(Author’s website can be found here.)
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