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A book of two halves
on 25 September 2007
This starts out witty and smart, the sort of book you might expect from Pearson's knowing comments on Newsnight Review over the years. The prose style is a touch more accomplished than the average book of this genre; the similes come thick and fast, and they're generally right on the money. Pearson clearly knows her territory, whether by real life or research, and the trials and tribulations of her thirtysomething protagonist - a fund manager and mother of two - are entertaining and informative in equal measure.
And then alarm bells suddenly start ringing. Her name, for one thing - Kate Reddy... Reddy, geddit? - is a little too pun-perfect for comfort and the emails that `K8' sends her two best friends (one of which is called Candy Stratton - had Pearson been listening to `Young Hearts Run Free' before she wrote this?) are just plain annoying. Imagine Bridget Jones fed through a text-speak blender and out comes silly nonsense like `mens2ruashn si2ashn'. Before you know it, she's got a hate-hate relationship that quickly turns to love with an annoying American client who - hello, turns out to be rather gorgeous, not to mention blessed with the Dickensian name of Jack Abelhammer (the source of a few lame jokes). In one fell swoop this moves from proper literature to beach read. I should have known better. The book was released in two different candy-coloured covers and there's even a quote from India Knight on the back, but Pearson just always seemed so... intellectual. It's a let-down.
Anyway, once she's jumped on the lightweight bandwagon, there's no stopping her. It's a downhill slide into la-la land, where characters start shedding their dimensions faster than you can say `international blockbuster' and the clichés compete for space with all the loose threads left dangling. And considering Pearson has spent the entire novel up on her soapbox, it's surprising to find that there's no clear moral to her tale. Okay, so obviously that's the point, blah blah, this is an imperfect world etc and the lot of a working mother is never going to be an easy one. But it doesn't come across like that. The work-home tug of love is so engagingly portrayed - and Kate's right to a proper career is so extensively argued - that you throw up your arms in disbelief when she starts backtracking along the path to a saccharine happy-ever-after (prompted by watching Mary Poppins... ye gods!). She kind of saves face with a twist at the end, but that doesn't excuse the last fifty pages of drivel. Worse still, it gets boring. Spare the red pen, spoil the novel. A book of about 350 pages really shouldn't feel this long, and a tighter edit could have snipped out all the repetition. Page 255, for instance, is an almost exact replica of the novel's opening scene.
But, that said, this will undoubtedly resonate with mothers everywhere. `A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,' as Ms Poppins once sang, but in this case I preferred the bitter pill of the first half (with all its self-righteous anger) than the sugar-plum fairy tale of the second.