I’m a bit torn for this review. In some ways it deserves at least four stars, because it is undoubtedly very well written in a style I often admire: quite literary, very fluid, finely constructed sentences, and a wide precise vocabulary. But in this case, it didn’t work for me. The main problem is a sense of distance, of looking with cool detachment at two not very interesting protagonists. There is no real sense of being inside their lives or connecting with their problems.
But that may be partly because the problems are not ones I could readily connect with.
I don't think I would class this as a chick lit. It's not meant to be fluffy or fun and is definitely not funny; it's about the disintegration of a marriage. The plot: essentially, affluent and disengaged husband Nick has fallen out of love with stay-at-home mum Maya. But wow, who knew divorce was so expensive? So to reduce his losses, he hatches a plan to be a better husband and coax Maya back to work: as a highly-paid lawyer herself, she will no longer be a dependent. But, during the process, he unexpectedly falls back in love with her.
It’s quite a cute plotline and did attract me to read the book. But even apart from the sense of distance mentioned above, the story annoyed me in so many ways. Maya’s parenting style is ridiculous (no boundaries – lets her brattish boy hurt and smash things with no reprimand or consequence; obsesses about food) – and how on earth, with a nanny working fifty hours a week (yes, fifty – five ten hour days – like employees need no life of their own) could she find parenting so hard? I had twins (breast fed) and an older boy not yet four. No Nanny. Yes, it’s hard work – but... what can I say? You just have to be organized, and firm, and patient, and hardworking. It’s really not that hard. Maya’s twins aren’t even around half the time, with all the thousands of activities she (or the nanny) constantly takes them to. I felt sorry for Velma the nanny, who does most of the actual work anyway while Maya swans off to her personal trainer and various other fitness/therapeutic activities.
It’s first world problems writ large. Too-affluent people with nothing to do but screw up their own lives through being self-obsessed and selfish.
And it also annoys me anyway, (rant follows) the way so many books are about super-affluent people. It’s like, 95% of people aren’t super-affluent, but in books the proportion is reversed: we have to read about people who never really have to worry about money. Their worries are at the level of who gets the lion’s share of a really big pot of money, not how to pay the rent so my kids aren’t on the street.
It’s not even escapism, in a book like this. It’s meant to be a reflection of real society, from which we are meant to derive insights about love and marriage and childrearing. Meh.
And then, when Maya goes back to work, it’s in the full knowledge she’s going to be working a sixty-hour week plus. Now, putting aside poor Velma’s overtime (I’d like to think she gets double time for anything over forty hours, ha ha fat chance), that really annoys me. If you are working twelve-hour days plus, you are not going to be there for your children at all. You are abdicating responsibility. Now, I know that this is supposed to be the dilemma women face, that they are frowned upon for leaving their children to pursue a professional career blah blah – but why does anyone need to work sixty hour weeks, period? So Maya can earn $17,000 dollars for a single court appearance (which bankrupts her deserving client and fails anyway), apparently. Maybe so she can buy more sessions with her personal trainer, or a bigger fatter BMW.
This is all a bit of a rant – but the bottom line is, I really dislike that all-or-nothing working mother approach. If there are no law firms that will let you work thirty hour weeks and pay you pro rata – then there really ought to be. Maybe Maya should have started one herself: child-friendly law firm for working mothers who don’t want to abandon their children totally to the hired help.
And then Nick, when left alone after Maya walks out and takes Velma with her, immediately sinks into squalor. He feels too embarrassed to hire another cleaner/housekeeper - and of course can't possibly soil his own lily-white hands by actually doing something practical like vacuuming. I know people like this exist, people who can't even keep themselves and their basic living environment clean: so refined and snobbish, they're actually useless. Gaaah.
So yes, it made me cross. And it was quite slow anyway. So even though it was well-written style-wise, I’m only going to give it three stars (head says more, heart says less, three cuts a deal).
What Works And Why?
We read to escape, enjoy, engage, and find out more about our world. So reading is great - but what makes a great read? A page dedicated to short analyses of how writers engage readers.