Susie and Alex have been together for 10 years, have two children and a comfortable life. But one day Susie snoops on Alex's phone and finds a message that seems to indicate he's seeing someone else. Once the boulder of that knowledge has started its journey downhill there can be no stopping it and no-one will be left untouched.
I generally enjoy Kathryn Flett's magazine and newspaper columns, so was pleased to receive a copy of Separate Lives to review. I have to say at the outset that there was a lot I didn't like about the book, but despite quite a long list of dislikes I would say I found it worth reading and would recommend it to others.
I'm not sure whether this novel can be categorised as Chick Lit as it seems to consider an older group of characters than usual for that genre, and Chick Lit tends to have more of a "Reader, I married him" vibe about it. Separate Lives shows what can happen a decade on from the Chick Lit happy ending and looks at an older group of characters, so perhaps it's Hen Lit or Old Broiler Lit? Anyway, although the novel is funny at times, particularly when Susie is narrating, it's by no means a light-hearted romantic romp - quite the opposite in fact.
It's a very middle-class, Notting Hill creatives type novel - none of the characters have any money worries thank you very much, even when redundancy strikes, and though we know some of them have jobs, we don't hear much about what they do on a daily basis to earn their wage other than the absolute basics. The time they don't have to devote to worrying about money or their careers seems to be spent in infidelity. There are very few characters in the book who aren't unfaithful to someone at some point - the major characters all are. This may be de rigueur in certain circles but it's not something I personally recognise as realistic.
Partly for this reason, but more because none of them were people I'd like to know, I can't say I was drawn to, identified with or liked many of the characters. I definitely didn't like the three main protagonists who take turns to narrate the book. This triple narration was another source of mild annoyance - I understand that in a complicated set of relationships the reader needs to hear what each character is going through, but I think the format of Susie doing the usual kind of narration, Alex communicating largely through emails (because men can't express themselves "properly" apparently) and the other protagonist through letters to her mother is a bit twee and overdone. Yes, it helps us know who is narrating at any given point, but we would have known that anyway.
For a while near the start of the book I thought it was going to be one of those deeply irritating narratives where there's a misunderstanding and because no-one feels able to talk about it everyone suffers for the misunderstanding throughout the length of the novel and only at the end does anyone talk about it thus sorting it all out. It wasn't one of those, but the potential misunderstanding is a vital plot point and is used quite cleverly. However, I felt that coincidence was used a little too much in the plot for the book to feel realistic.
So from all my complaining above, you'd think I really didn't like Separate Lives, but while I wouldn't say I loved it, I found it engrossing while I was reading it and was glad I persisted with it. I would say it's more interesting than enjoyable and that's not necessarily a bad thing.