I bring you a book that I requested on a bit of a whim and it was a total win.
Because of You by Dawn French
THE EAGERLY AWAITED, LIFE-AFFIRMING AND MOVING NEW NOVEL FROM NUMBER-ONE BESTSELLING AUTHOR DAWN FRENCH
‘Dawn tackles the big ones – love, death, grief, childhood, motherhood, parenthood – head on’ Guardian
‘Beautifully observed’ The Times
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock . . . midnight.
The old millennium turns into the new.
In the same hospital, two very different women give birth to two very similar daughters.
Hope leaves with a beautiful baby girl.
Anna leaves with empty arms.
Seventeen years later, the gods who keep watch over broken-hearted mothers wreak mighty revenge, and the truth starts rolling, terrible and deep, toward them all.
The power of mother-love will be tested to its limits.
Perhaps beyond . . .
Because Of You is Dawn French’s stunning new novel, told with her signature humour, warmth and so much love.
‘Gorgeous . . . wise and full of love’ MARIAN KEYES
‘An extraordinary book – sad, heartening, gripping and reassuringly human’ JO BRAND
‘Dawn French is a wonderful writer’ Daily Mail
‘Incredible’ RUSSELL BRAND
‘Moving . . . French’s best yet’ Good Housekeeping
READERS LOVE BECAUSE OF YOU:
‘Tugs at your heart strings. I would have a box of tissues when reading!’ 5*****
‘I had tears in my eyes by the end of the book. Absolutely wonderfully written’ 5*****
‘A profoundly emotional read about the love between mothers and daughters. A book that I did not want to put down’ 5*****
‘Have your tissues ready when you read this one. It is really moving and will hit you right in the heart’ 5*****
About the author:
Dawn French has been making people laugh for thirty years. As a writer, comedian, and actor, she has appeared in some of Great Britain’s longest-running and most celebrated shows, including French and Saunders, Murder Most Horrid, The Vicar of Dibley, Jam and Jerusalem, Lark Rise to Candleford, and, most recently, Roger and Val Have Just Got In. Her bestselling memoir, Dear Fatty, was published in the United Kingdom to critical acclaim, and her first novel, A Tiny Bit Marvellous, was a number-one UK bestseller.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
Having lived in the UK for a long time, I knew Dawn French’s work as an actress and comedian, but I had not read any of her books. Although I had heard about his memoir, I didn’t realise she had also published fiction, and I couldn’t resist when I had the chance to read this book. And it was a great decision.
Although this is not a mystery, I will try to avoid any spoilers, and will not offer too many details about the plot. Suffice to say that this is (mostly) a story about two mothers and a daughter (the fathers are around but don’t play too big a part), the price they have to pay for that relationship, and it deals in themes such as family, identity, grief, the mother-daughter bond, love and sacrifice…
I’ve mentioned two mothers and a daughter. Both mothers, Hope and Anna, are very different. From different social spheres and ethnic background (one well-off, one just getting by, one white British, one Jamaican-British), in very different personal circumstances (one married and going through a planned and expected pregnancy, one unmarried and her pregnancy a total surprise that have changed the couple’s plans), and their partners have nothing in common either. Julius (Anna’s husband) is pompous, self-centred, and only interested in his political career. (Silent) Isaac is all good will, kindness, and only interested in the well-being of his fiancée and his soon-to-be-born daughter. The two couples are in the same hospital for the birth of their daughters, Florence and Minnie, but things don’t go to plan.
I loved both mothers. Their experiences are vividly described and cover the whole gamut of emotions. Loss and joy, grief and hope, second-chances/the beginning of a new life, and becoming stuck in a dark hole. I’ve long believed that comedians are great observers of human behaviour, and there is evidence aplenty of that here, as there are beautiful touches and nuances, insights into the thought processes of the characters and their actions, that help create some memorable scenes. The story is narrated in the third person from alternating points of view (mostly those of the two mothers and of Minnie, the daughter, but we also get some insight into the fathers’ thoughts), and although at first I felt somewhat distanced from the protagonist due to the way the story was told, I soon became used to it and realised that it might have become unbearable to read the devastation and utter desolation the characters experience if it had been written in the first person. It is still a very emotional experience (tears came to my eyes more than once), but the narrative choice and the inclusion of lighter and comedic touches (one of the policemen, Tripshaw, plays the part of a buffoon, there are some unexpectedly humorous passages in pretty dire circumstances, and there are also some lovely life-affirming scenes surrounding the girl’s childhood and her growing up) make it a bitter-sweet but ultimately inspiring read.
I’ve already said I loved both mothers, and I must say that I like all the female characters, especially Debbie Cheese, the wonderful policewoman who understands the situation and empathises with the mother from the beginning, and Minnie, the daughter, colourful, unique, and full of zest for life and love. She knows who she is and doesn’t allow anybody to change her mind. The men are not that important, although Lee (or Twat), Minnie’s boyfriend, seems a keeper, truly devoted, and determined to stick around.
Readers who don’t like sudden changes in point of view don’t need to worry, as these do not occur in the middle of a chapter, and we are clearly told in each moment whose point of view we are following, so there’s no possible confusion.
The lovely details about the relationship mother-daughter don’t disrupt the flow of the story, which is beautifully written and contains sharp psychological insights into the world of family relationships and all its ups and downs. The story starts, then moves forward 18 years, but then we go back again to the beginning and follow its development in chronological order, so although we have an inkling of the ending, we don’t get the full details until the ending proper. And it is quite an ending. I felt, at times, that Tripshaw’s malapropisms were pushed beyond the limit and so were Julius’s excesses but, in general, it is easy to read, and there are some truly funny and also some truly insightful moments. I thought I’d share a few:
Here, Tripshaw is, for once, word-perfect:
‘Well, Mr Lindon-Clarke, that went well, didn’t it? Truly, I’ve met some pricks in my time, but you, sir, are the full cactus.’
Anna, also talking about her ex-husband, Julius Lindon-Clarke, and his self-centredness and conceit:
‘He’s like a budgie: loads of talk, until it sees a mirror.’
‘How ironic that her emotional skeleton was made of pain, the very stuff that would not support her —it couldn’t. Pain is not galvanizing, it’s corrosive, so she would eventually rust. It was already happening and she knew it. All the parts of her held together by pain were deteriorating. She needed new reinforcement if she was going to claim her future without alcohol or sleeping pills or fear or endless crying. Anna needed to bestow this forgiveness.’
I recommend this novel to anybody who, like me, might be curious about Dawn French’s writing or has already read some and want more, who enjoy stories with strong and varied female characters, and who are particularly interested in books about families and mother-daughter relationships. It is well written, beautifully nuanced, full of wonderful characters, and, despite the sad moments, it is ultimately life-affirming and heart-warming (sorry, I know some people hate such accolades, but they are true). It won’t be the last of French’s novels I read, I’m sure of that.
Thanks to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for the novel, thanks to all of you for visiting and reading it, and remember to like, share, comment, click, keep smiling, keep reviewing, and above all, keep safe.
Oh, and in case any of you need some reading material or are looking for something suitable for Halloween, don’t miss this fantastic multi-author giveaway organised by Marie Lavender, who has visited my blog on many occasions.