Top critical review
Everyman Gets Divorced
on 12 November 2015
Scott and Gail have been together for more than a decade, and have a teenage son, Nat, and an adorable little daughter, Rosie. Their life is routine but fairly pleasant. So when Scott, on a whim, has a one-off affair, and Gail finds out and chucks him out, it all comes as a terrible surprise. Scott hopes that Gail will relent fairly soon, but instead, he and she both find themselves realizing quite how wrong the marriage was; and Scott finds himself becoming a 'Sunday father', taking the kids out for treats at weekends, and after a few weeks on friends' sofas renting his own flat, and trying to rebuild his life. Meanwhile Gail has to decide whether she wants to enter the world of 'dating', and Nat and Rosie have to get used to their parents as individuals rather than a unit.
There are so many judgmental articles around about divorce (as in Anne Atkins's appalling columns for the Daily Mail, and others) that it is a relief to find a writer like Calman who writes about it with clear-sighted intelligence. Calman makes it very clear in this novel that neither Scott nor Gail are 'bad' and that Scott's one-night stand isn't the real reason for the split; they are simply an ill-matched couple, who gradually realize that they are making each other unhappy (the scene where they briefly think they might give it another go is very moving). Calman is also good at charting the children's reactions: Rosie gradually accepting what's going on, Nat initially resigned, and later (particularly when his Dad begins dating) more and more unhappy and nervous about the future. In many ways this is a moving and thoughtful novel.
But - I felt it had one massive problem. Calman (herself from a 'artsy' background - her father was the artist Mel Calman) has tried to create characters who will appeal to absolutely everyone. The result is four main characters who are in fact rather bland and boring as people. Scott enjoys his job as a builder and handyman, beer, chips and sex - but otherwise appears to have virtually no interests. Gail's topics of conversation are principally her children, clothes and make-up. Rosie is a miniature equivalent, while Nat is the equivalent of his Dad apart from the fact that computers take precedence over girls for him. In the end, I couldn't find any of the characters that interesting or easy to empathize with - Calman had tried to make each of them so 'universal' that they had very little personality. So, while I was very interested in their situation, I couldn't summon up much interest in them as people. I also felt the book ended up a bit longer than was needed - and there was rather too much heavy handed humour (such as Scott's allergy to his real Christian name, 'Dennis', and the scenes involving Scott's boss's wicked son).
A great topic, which I felt was intelligently handled, but with two-dimensional characters. Calman's third novel, 'I Like It Like That', in which the characters were very vivid individuals, was much more enjoyable for me.