'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.