Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
Unrelieved gloom and despondency
on 31 December 2014
Jo has most things that ordinary people aspire to: she can look back on a happy childhood, she has a nice house and garden (where 'pathetic' tomatoes grow, what is a pathetic tomato...?), two grown-up children who are about par for the course, some good friends and a business which is increasingly successful. She portrays herself as totally without ambition and her deepest desires would be fulfilled by non-slip bath mat and a new Lidl potato peeler. Mind you, she does have an obsession with her parents: her father suffers from memory loss and the story of her mother's death is recounted over and over again.
This is a gloomy, pessimistic story; well written, good in spots but ultimately unsatisfying because of the numerous abrupt shifts in direction. Why is Jo so gloomy, for instance, in spite of a happy childhood, a better-than-average husband, a house, a successful business and so on?
Dog bites man - that's not a story. Man bites dog - that's a story. That money doesn't buy happiness or love is hardly an original message. And particularly irritating when one feels that the author is preaching at us, rather than telling us a story - he even presents us with tasks for discussion after the end of the novel. More interesting might be a book in which someone wins the lottery - and as a result becomes happy and loved.
But in a way it does exactly that: the author conjures a happy ending, more or less, out of the hat! A novel which starts off in tragic mode, and finds a happy end, that is at least original. But I found the happy ending contrived and out of place.
What about the quality of the writing? Good, but not great. Do we really have to hear, at a guess 30 times, about how Jo's mother died? Okay, the trauma of that event might indeed have ruined Jo's life forever. On the other hand, everyone's mother dies sometime or other, and every death is in some sense a trauma. Jo has experienced nothing worse than most of us at some point in our lives - but does it cause us all to descend into gloom and despondency? Or a lifetime of selling buttons?
If the book is to have a plausible explanation, it has to be that Jo has a deeply pessimistic nature. But then there is that semi-happy ending the author springs on us, quite out of character...
A short novel, too good to simply stop reading, not good enough to enjoy. I was relieved when I finally did finish - and poured myself a decent beer, regretting that it was not one of those Belgian ones with 12% alcohol... And tomorrow I must go to Lidl, to check out that potato peeler.