A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Since her divorce a year ago, Kit Hargrove feels she has finally got her life back on track. Gone is the lonely Wall Street widow she used to be, and in her place is a happier, more fulfilled woman, with a new job she loves – working for uberfamous novelist Robert McClore – a small but cosy new home with her children, and the beginnings of a tentative friendship with her ex-husband. She even has time for yoga classes with her new best friend Tracy. The only thing missing is a man. And when Tracy introduces her to Steve – charming, romantic and attentive – Kit wonders if he could be the final piece of the jigsaw. But Kit doesn’t know that Tracy is hiding a secret, one that could destroy their friendship, her happiness with Steve, even her new life. Torn between suspicion and love, Kit doesn’t know which way to turn. For there are some betrayals that a friendship can’t survive …
About ten or so years ago when I was in my early thirties and an entirely different woman, I went through a stage of really enjoying the novels of Jane Green, as they were funny, quirky, romantic and actually surprisingly deep. That is, until she began to write about women with babies and then she and I parted company and I forgot about exactly how good she is. When puzzling over what books to buy as part of my Happy Reads series, Jane Green popped right back into my memory and so I picked up this novel in Tesco as part of my weekly shop. Yes, I realise that’s not what serious readers should do, but hey it’s convenient and I have no pride.
I actually wasn’t expecting anything much as I thought I grew out of chick lit some time ago, but in all honesty, this is really hen lit as Kit, our heroine, is distinctly no longer in her twenties and looking very much to reinvent her life before hitting middle age, an aim that certainly rang a bell with me. Even though I fear I’m rather more advanced in the ageing process than is our Kit. Ah well. I particularly warmed to our heroine’s refreshing attitude to her children:
One of the unexpected bonuses of divorce, Kit Hargrove realises, as she settles onto the porch swing, curling her feet up under her and placing a glass of chilled wine on the wicker table, is having weekends without the children …
To my surprise, I really enjoyed Girl Friday (though the title is utterly hopeless and tells you nothing whatsoever about the story, sigh …). Kit is a very sympathetic and intelligent heroine and I wanted her to succeed in her determination to begin again and make a good life for herself and her children. I liked her vulnerability and her strength and was glad that we spent most of the novel in her company.
Though we don’t stay there all the time, and that’s fine too. Jane Green also gives us passages from the point of view of Kit’s ex-husband, Adam, as well as from Tracy, Kit’s new friend, then Robert, her novelist employer and also Edie, Kit’s new neighbour. Neither must I forget Ginny, Kit’s very difficult but strangely adorable absent mother, who has hidden depths of perspicacity indeed – even though we don’t see things from her viewpoint, she’s a tour de force. However, speaking of Robert, and with my own writing hat on, I could only agree with these sentiments:
She (Kit) is tempted to tell him the story, but won’t, for two reasons. The first is that she is well aware of the number of people who offer to tell Robert their stories: ‘You should write a book about it,’ they say. ‘Have I got some stories for you?’ Robert always smiles, and listens graciously, but as he’s said to Kit many a time, the stories he tells are his own. Not those of other people.
Oh yes, well said, Ms Green: all fiction writers ever do, over and over again, is write their own stories, hey ho, and it’s impossible to write other people’s. It’s a compulsion. Anyway, Green’s a confident writer and handles these character’s lives very well indeed. The only hesitation I have is that there’s a heck of a lot of story and I felt that towards the end of the novel, some people’s story arcs, such as Robert and Tracy, were skimped on in order to concentrate on Kit. Which is fine, but I did feel there was more to explain or reveal about the other characters. Should Robert and Tracy have got their own novel? They certainly deserve it. I was also unconvinced at a couple of points about the interaction between Kit and Tracy, as I thought certain moments were a tad unrealistic but I know I’m being picky.
The other aspect of Jane Green’s novels that I’d rather forgotten about is just how elegant and clever her plots are. What you think should be simple girl-meets-boy-and-wonders-if-he’s-the-one fiction most definitely isn’t, and we have here a carefully controlled look at the shadowy sides of the various characters, a focus that includes loss, grief, failure, domestic abuse, serious money worries, family secrets and deceit. While that may sound grim, I promise you it isn’t as Green keeps the dark side beautifully in proportion to the positive and, yes, uplifting messages she’s keen to convey. Because here love does conquer and in a very unexpected and satisfying fashion, and the women of the novel are empowered in ways they probably didn’t anticipate, and in such a manner that I was rooting for them all. Well, most of them anyway.
So, in the end, this is really a delightfully intelligent feel-good novel for women and I loved it. It’s certainly the best of my Happy Reads so far and makes me wonder if in fact chick (or hen) lit is wasted on the young. Ideal reading matter for this particular hormonal mid-forties battleaxe anyway. I recommend it.
Happy Reads Rating: 8 out of 10. Good show!
Girl Friday, Penguin 2010 ISBN: 978 0141 038636
[Anne is surprised to find that hen lit isn’t as bad as she’d feared. For her own version of romantic comedy, please click here.]