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Customer Review

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strange mixture of chicklit and much more weighty novel, 7 July 2010
This review is from: Sex and Stravinsky (Paperback)
I first read Barbara Trapido a long time ago, with the wonderfulBrother of the More Famous Jack. Her earlier novels have all now been repackaged, and I'm sure will tempt lots of readers. This new book, "Sex and Stravinsky", though, feels somewhat less obviously enjoyable than that first read. Josh is married to Caroline, he interested in ballet and mime, she more of an active, cake-baking, floor-sanding type. Their daughter Zoe finds her mother fairly unbearable, yet is nonetheless reluctant to go on her schedule French exchange. Josh is off to his former homeland, South Africa, for a conference, where he meets up with an old flame, Hattie. Hattie's daughter also finds her mother unbearable.

The way the story is constructed feels experimental, narrated in the present tense, and switching between all the main characters in turn. This means that you never quite get to settle with one main character in the way you would in a more conventional book. The book is a page-turner, and the reader definitely guns for the final page: Trapido ratchets up the drama by giving her first heroine an absolutely appalling mother, whose bad deeds are almost of Snow White stepmother proportions. You definitely wish for Caroline, the daughter, to have her revenge, and spend a lot of the book agonising over whether it will ever happen. There is also a lot of sadness, and many thoughtful observations of life in pre-Apartheid South Africa. Then it features two teenagers, both of whom detest their own mothers; mothers and children turn out to be the main theme of the book.

Yet despite all of this excellent raw material, I did come away feeling slightly flat. I might even have given the book 3 and a half, if it were possible. The descriptions are vivid and alive, and the themes deeply intriguing, but the neat tying-up of the plot at the end really annoyed me because I felt the possibilities of the book hadn't been met. I wondered what conclusions Trapido was drawing about the nature of mother-daughter relationships, when I got to the end - I felt her view was rather pessimistic.

All in all, though, this is a much better beach read than a lot of the trashier books you'll find in the shops. And I can imagine book groups really enjoying a discussion of the mothering on display in the book. (Some really, really bad examples to cheer most of us right up about our own efforts...)
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