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Both Dull and Melodramatic
on 12 May 2015
I am aware I'm the first person to give this novel a very negative review, and this may not go down well - however, I do believe in reviewing honestly everything I read, and I have to say I didn't enjoy the book at all!
The basic plot seemed promising enough to start with. Klara is a thirty-something academic, married to nice (and boring) doctor Mark (she attributes their happiness to the fact they have nothing in common, which seems a rather strange attitude). The couple have a nice, placid life, in which the only odd thing seems to be their extreme reluctance to have children. Then, one day Klara's happiness is shattered, when she receives a mysterious communication telling her to go to a store unit in South East London, where she will find vital information about her beautiful mother Sadie (who died when Klara was a child, leaving Klara to be brought up by her kindly intellectual father). Klara goes, and finds (of course!) a diary, covering her mother's life over many years. The story then alternates between the diary of Sadie, who traces her life from her adolescence as Mary (the adopted daughter of a strict Polish immigrant and his downtrodden wife) to her glamorous rebirth as Sadie, a top model with a glamorous life - and a hopeless passion - and Klara's continuing story, in which she both turns detective to find out more about her mother, and has her own family crisis when it's clear that Mark's younger sister Elfie is having problems with her hippy sister and parents, and needs a stable home. As the story progresses, it's clear that Klara (as the book's title shows) has been told some remarkable lies about Sadie - but what is the truth, and does she want to know it?
I might have cared if I'd liked any of the characters or found them interesting - but I couldn't (apart from possibly Klara's kindly academic father Henry). Klara was a bit of a cipher - she seemed to be mainly in the book as a means for us to discover Sadie's secret, and had little personality of her own. She came across as monumentally dull, and her husband Mark even more so. Mark's hippy family 'all so rich from trust funds that they didn't have to work' were all caricatures apart from possibly Elfie. The characters from the fashion world in which Sadie worked, such as 'Naughty Rupert', Archie and Archie's partner Coco Delaunay were also caricatures, and their spoilt champagne lifestyle got very tedious to read about after a while. (Coco it has to be said did have her moments - the scene in which she told Klara about her childhood was quite fine.) As for Sadie, I developed a deep loathing of her and her narcissistic preening ways after her very first diary entry, and the more I read the more I hated her. She and Archie thoroughly deserved each other. As I couldn't really care what happened to such an unpleasant and shallow woman, I didn't find the development of her story very interesting. I read up to Page 100, and then started skim-reading the rest. There were some clever plot twists, and Elfie's story had its moments, but I found the book - particularly the final scenes - a bizarre mixture of very dull prose and sudden melodramatic incidents (Sadie's eventual decision was so dramatic as to be almost farcical). And why wasn't Klara's story brought to a proper conclusion?
I'd read some interesting things about Jessica Ruston - and quite enjoyed her third novel as a light read - but this was a big disappointment. Not recommended if you're a reader who needs to find characters sympathetic.