Stable boys and family secrets abound in this story. But the plot is not really the point. There is a strong cast of characters: Joy the ironically named grandmother, ungainly and awkward as a teenager and stiff and buttoned-up as an old lady; Sabine the rebellious teenager with a particularly fine line in saying things that her others and then feeling ashamed and sorry; Kate the feckless mother, never able to hold down a relationship, not even with mother or daughter; Annie, with a special line in depression. The male characters are less convincing, acting mostly as opportunities for the women to develop. Thom is an impossibly wonderful shoulders to cry on despite his back-story, and grandfather just lies there dying, despite his.
The unsolved mystery at the heart of the story is: since none of the family seem to do any work, how on earth do they fund the wages of all those who work for them?
Some great phrases:
- “She was seemingly covered in an ever-growing coat of spikes, like a glamorous, sulky porcupine.” (p 38)
- “The women were divided into sluts, who panted with ill-concealed lust over distracted male heroes, who were just trying to get on with saving the world, or virgins, who panted with restrained longing as the same heroes skillfully seduced them.” (p 75)
- “Kate didn't point out that Maggie's much-referred-to culture was somewhat elastic, taking in trips to McDonald's with her sons, split-shift dining with her doctor husband, who worked erratic hours at the local hospital, and a devotional love of Coronation Street.” (p 110)
- “like a well-practised politician she would simply ‘mishear’ anything that didn't fit into her current world-view, and cheerful restate her opinions as if they had never been questioned.” (p 110)
- “They divided girls in her class into ‘drains and radiators’; radiators being those popular girls who gave out interest and enthusiasm, drawing people around them, and drains being ... well, drains.” (p 113)
- “She deserved it, didn't she? she told herself, desperately trying to rationalise the hurt she was about to cause.” (p 118)
- “Evil trolls masquerading as our children” (p 121)
- “The snot-and-shudder stage of crying” (p 166)
- “You can’t argue with a missing limb ... You can’t argue with anything missing.” (p 379)
This is a beautifully balanced novel with plenty of action, plenty of sadness, and plenty of humour.