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The Making of Vapid Children
on 29 January 2016
What do Lydia, a 30-year-old selfmade millionaire who designed an odourless brand of paint, Dean, an out-of-work truck driver who's just been bereaved, and Robyn, a pretty first-year medical student, have in common? The simple answer is that their mothers all used the same sperm donor to have them (no spoiler, we pick this up pretty soon). And when each of them, feeling a sense of 'something missing', joins a register uniting the children of particular donors, the results will be life-changing - particularly as their father, who they've never met, wants to meet them as well. Will they like each other? Will they, due to their genetic heritage, feel kinship? Or will the meeting be disastrous.
This could have been a fantastic story, particularly as it - unusually - was told from the point of view of the children of donors. Unfortunately - as Blest Miss T notes in her review - the three children in question are so vapid and unpleasant that it's hard to feel anything about them other than irritation. Lydia is narrow-minded, bland and selfish, forever going on about her riches, or how she fancies her personal trainer, the even more boring Bendix. Jewell does make some attempt to explore how her dysfunctional childhood has affected her, and gives quite a moving sense of how she can bond better with animals than people, but otherwise she's profoundly dull, and I got very weary of hearing about her attempts to bed Bendix and about her jealousy of her best friend Dixie's experiences of motherhood (what sort of name is Dixie for a thirty-year-old?!). And I know she was meant to have suffered - but would that have made her so unable to understand humanity that she wasn't bothered to find out anything about her housekeeper? I think Jewell meant us to see her as some sort of solitary genius, but her conversation sounded so silly that it was hard to believe. But Lydia was an angel compared to spoilt little Essex princess Robyn, who thought that emptying a bin was an act for which she deserved canonization, who couldn't cope with anything academic (despite having got four As at A'level) and who was endlessly going on about her own beauty and her happiness with the one-dimensional Jack. I've rarely disliked a character more in literature (apart from Adrian and Cat in Jewell's 'The Third Wife'). Dean, the third sibling, was nicer, but incredibly wet, and seemed to get over the tragedy in the first chapters with amazing speed. None of the three seemed to have any real interests or - despite Robyn's A Levels and Lydia's millions - aspirations. Things improved a bit when Daniel and Maggie came into the story, and the bits in the hospice were vivid and poignant. But both characters ran into danger of getting overly sentimental at times, and the way Daniel had lived his life felt unbelievable.
The plot wasn't great either, alternating between melodrama (the carving-knife wielding father in Wales, Daniel's Terrible Deed as a medical student, Bendix's kleptomania, Robyn's belief that Jack must be her half-brother - a rather unnecessary plot strand that fizzled out quickly) and endless bland conversations reminiscent of those you might hear on the bus on a Saturday afternoon. Some aspects - Daniel living as a Kept Man for most of his life even though he allegedly couldn't connect with anyone - were just silly. The eventual meeting of the siblings was annoying rather than moving - they just sat around making silly remarks, getting drunk, declaring they adored each other, and going on about how seeing someone 'like, dying' was really awful -for them of course, rather than the person involved. Daniel's brother became a rather convenient Deus ex Machina, and the ending was decidedly sentimental.
There's a great book to be written about sperm donor children, but this one emphatically is not it. I'm beginning to think that Jewell's enjoyable 'The House We Grew Up In' was a one-off, as I've enjoyed none of her other books.