There’s a free bench by the tennis courts, the one I usually choose, donated in memory of a violinist who liked to sit here. Inside the wire box, a twenty-something coach is putting some trim PTA-types through their paces, patting balls relentlessly over the net, shouting instructions and reprimands. (p118)
The ending was satisfying in its dark ambiguity and left me pondering long after I turned the last page. Yet one of the things I pondered was whether I was the right kind of reader: I adored Harriet Lane’s debut, Alys, Always, but I didn’t experience Frances, the protagonist, as quite as malevolently manipulative as the publicity blurb suggested I should. In contrast, I found Nina’s character comprehensible only in retrospect and struggled to summon any sympathy for a woman with no qualms about upsetting infants, no matter how strongly she believes their mother has harmed her. As with That Dark Remembered Day, I felt the “big reveal” was unnecessarily delayed: I’d have found the story more gripping had the nature of Nina’s grievance against Emma been more strongly foreshadowed and explored. While both characters were fleshed-out in terms of their current routines and relationships, this often served as a distraction from the plot to such an extent that I was dumbfounded to find myself, about fifty pages before the end, attending the wedding of two people I never knew existed. Given the centrality to the plot of the women’s shared history, I’d have happily swapped such episodes for more flashback to childhood, foregoing breadth of character in favour of greater depth. This might have given Emma an extra edge; although she was certainly the more sympathetic character, she seemed less of a person than a stretcher-bearer for the agonies of full-time motherhood. However, her vulnerability was sufficient to convince me that she was ripe for exploitation. Finally, because the scenes featuring both women together were narrated from both points of view, there was a lot of repetition. Overall, it seemed as if a talented writer with a flair for language had grabbed a great idea for a short story and stretched it into a novel.
Apologies to regular readers for a second post reviewing novels on poisonous female friendship and thanks to Orion for my review copy. Her is published in the UK today.
What do you think is the best way to give depth to a character? Do you like to see them in their everyday relationships? Do you want to know how they’ve got to where they are today?