A novel displaying the tact and discretion of the worst kind of chick-lit, while also telling a number of spicy and, in some cases, extremely effective stories, Fay Weldon's offering is a whole curate's breakfast. A smorgasbord of women have decamped from their families over Christmas to spend £5,000 a head to be pampered and cosseted in a remote Spa Hotel. They don't get their moneys-worth when staff remain unpaid and inclement weather cuts them off from the outside world and leaves them having to shift for themselves for much of the time. They take to sitting in the Jacuzzi, telling each other their life stories. Some are frankly risible - The Manicurist's Tale of the Sheikh, the Judge's tale of a sex-change, the Trophy Wife's tale of five marriages and a burning yacht, and the worst of all was The Weather Girl's Tale of deadly deceit that ruined a man's life and caused his suicide. Others, particularly the Vicar's Ex-Wife's Tale of a marriage haunted by a poltergeist compounded from the souls of dead children, while containing little of a realistic bent are oddly haunting and somehow entirely credible. When she hits her stride right from the beginning of a story, Weldon's talents can both shock and delight. Some tales are downright sad and wicked, such as the Stepmother's Tale, others have a thread of wishful poignancy, such as the Company Director's Tale about life-long sibling rivalry ending happily and solved by an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
There is much to dislike about this strange vision of women who are either victims or psychopaths, with very little in between. It is a mirror image of the way some genres, such as certain kinds of crime novels, depict men as those who act brutally in the cause of a greater good. I did not like this view of women and found it misogynistic in various ways. On the other hand, some of the stories displayed forgiving qualities of wit and acuity. Weldon is a one-off - often trashy and careless, but also sometimes very astute. This book felt much too long - some of the stories might have been cut to make a lighter and more entertaining read.