18 January 2012

Book Review

'Cleave's heroine is by turns funny, sad, flawed, sympathetic, both damaged and indomitable, and triumphantly convincing.' (Sunday Telegraph)

The Sunday Telegraph was just one critique, others followed in the same vein. This is my view.


I’ve read that people found this story interesting and realistic but I’m afraid it wasn’t so with me. The main character didn’t inspire any sympathy or real emotion. The blurb on the back page which attracted me in the first place was this:

“You aren’t stupid.

You know there’s no such thing as a perfect mother. Plenty of other books will tell you there is but this one won’t lie to you.

I was weak and I cheated and I was punished but my god I loved my child through all of it. Love means you never break and it means you’re stronger than the things they do to you. I know this is true because I have been through fire and I am the proof that love survives.

I am not a perfect mother but I will tell you the perfect truth, because this is you and me talking. This is my story.”

The whole story is, in fact, a sometimes humorously written letter to Osama Bin Laden, because he was the cause of her predicament. It concerns the plight of the main character’s policeman husband and small son who were tragically killed when terrorists blew up a football ground; this while she was having sex with another man. The entire book is based on sex, sometimes crude, and her exploits left me wondering where her heart was. The boy becomes a tool in her life, an imaginary presence throughout the story. If she had shown some remorse for her actions I might have had more sympathy. As it was I was at first sympathetic, then irritated by everything she did.

Admittedly the idea for the book was clever although the characters were somewhat implausible.

The style of writing was unusual: no punctuation, or rather no commas, which made the narrator seem illiterate. Her style of speech also made me think she was not well educated. Certain phraseology gave me the impression that she was working class living in a working class area, yet her policeman husband and noted journalist neighbours (whose behaviour at times was beyond belief) were more middle than working class. In other words, none of it rang ring true.

Chris Cleave is an excellent writer of words and knows how to put a laugh into a tale. However, the chosen subject was too serious so I would have preferred a little less flippancy in the compilation. I shall probably try reading another of his books. But not yet.


  1. Hmmmm....I'd probably not enjoy it from your description. I don't do much reading anymore, too much eye trouble.

  2. hmmm...yeah sounds like a is ok to forgive some things if the writing is good but...

  3. You're right, Valerie, if I had read the blurb on the back page, I too would have thought it would be a good book.

    " The style of writing was unusual: no punctuation, or rather no commas, which made the narrator seem illiterate."

    OMG...that would have drove me insane.

    GREAT book review! You have a wonderful talent for sharing your feedback in so few words, yet saying a lot.

    Well done!

    Have a wonderful day, dear lady!


  4. Brian, I agree, but not in this case.

    Ron, yes, it took me ages to overcome the lack of commas. I persevered, with difficulty.

  5. Hi Valerie,
    I think that I will pass, also.
    Keep on suggesting those fab books.Latest thought trotting in my head; download a book on bubby's ipad and see how that works out.
    Newfangled things, I know...

  6. It doesn't sound like a book I would like. I am in the middle of Little Bee and it is great! Thanks for your reviews

  7. Thanks for being honest with your review. I could see why the book would catch your eye, though. How disappointing that it wasn't to your liking.

  8. I think I'll steer clear of this one. Doesn't sound like it's for me. Thanks for the review!

    I'm currently reading The Player Of Games by Iain Banks, and have Robot Apocalypse lined up after that. That should keep me busy for the next two weeks.

  9. Great review.. I would pass on this

  10. I read that book a while back and I did quite enjoy it - particularly the 'letter to Bin Laden' aspect of it. However, the narrator came across as not very bright throughout the book, so as you say, not a particularly sympathetic character.

    I suppose in the end I'd have to say I wasn't sorry I bought it but I didn't enjoy it enough to seek out any others by the same author.

  11. I think I'll skip on this one. I love your reviewing style too Valerie. You give a great sense of the book.


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