Frances Pilgrim’s father went missing when she was five, and ever since all sorts of things have been going astray: car keys, promotions, a series of underwhelming and unsuitable boyfriends … Now here she is, thirty-bloody-nine, teaching Shakespeare to rowdy sixth formers and still losing things.
But she has a much more pressing problem. Her mother, whose odd behaviour Frances has long put down to eccentricity, is slowly yielding to Alzheimer’s, leaving Frances with some disturbing questions about her father’s disappearance, and the family history she’s always believed in. Frances could really do with someone to talk to. Ideally Jackson: fellow teacher, dedicated hedonist, erstwhile best friend. Only they haven’t spoken since that night last summer when things got complicated . . .
As the new school year begins, and her mother’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic, Frances realises that she might just have a chance to find something for once. But will it be what she’s looking for?
Frances has to be one of my favourite female characters in a novel so far this year. She’s funny, intelligent, self-sufficient to an extent, but also flawed and vulnerable. Her past and her strained relationship with her mother make coping with her mother’s illness all the more difficult. She begins to realise that the stories she’s held on to all these years aren’t what they seem, and her history and sense of who she is begins to crumble.
Jackson, on the other hand, I found very hard to like. He seems selfish and lacks real self-awareness, and I couldn’t feel any sympathy for him at all. I also felt that his back story was a little glossed over and glamorised – he behaved appallingly but it felt as though the reader was supposed to feel sorry for him. This made it difficult to appreciate his story and to root for him at all.
So this was a mixed bag for me – I loved Frances and her story, but loathed Jackson.
The writing is strong though and the author is a skilful storyteller. There is an honesty in this novel that is refreshing.
And there’s a lovely dog!
But Jackson is too problematic for me to really recommend this novel.
Thanks, Alison. An unlikable primary character with no redeeming qualities is enough for me to give this a miss. I always enjoy your reviews.
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Thank you 🙂 This was a tricky one to review.