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.
All Eve ever wanted was the security of a loving husband and family, so when Oliver left her and started a new family with Anna, she could never entirely let him go. But when tragedy intervenes, the two women find that they must put aside their jealousy in order to save everything the man they both loved held dear.
This is a charming and grown-up book about the lives and business venture of two women who’ve both loved and lost the same man. The main characters, Eve and Anna, are very well-rounded and a great contrast and complement to each other. I really enjoyed the fact that they’re not best friends (as is usual in women’s fiction, alas), but actually potential enemies – Eve being Oliver Robinson’s first wife, and Anna his live-in girlfriend. It gave the book an edge and spice that rang very true-to-life.
The story takes us through how they react to each other in the event of their loss and how they eventually come to admire and even support each other, though they never become friends as such. The insecurities of both at the very beginning are nicely contrasted, although similar in intent: Eve is still in love with Oliver and jealous of his new life with Anna; and Anna is uncertain as to Oliver’s precise feelings about his first wife, especially given as they do have a large part to play in each other’s lives.
Interestingly, it’s at the very beginning of the set-up that the plot takes a dramatic turn and Oliver dies suddenly, leaving Eve and Anna deeply shocked and facing a wide variety of problems, particularly concerning the restaurant Oliver owned. I must say how very realistic the hospital and dying scenes were, and at one point I found myself crying. A rare event these days, I can tell you. Still, my mother and I have played that particular hospital scene once before so I can vouch for the truth of these lines:
The children didn’t ask what it had been like, and Eve knew she would never tell them. But the pain of those final moments would stay with her like a piece of ice in her heart.
In similar fashion, here’s Anna’s reaction:
She had to go to bed. She kept to her own side, out of habit, but as she reached over to switch off the bedside lamp, she caught the smell of Oliver’s aftershave lingering on the pillow. Anna lay holding it to her stomach, her body curved round it, breathing in the faint scent of him as she lay there longing for sleep.
Afterwards, as it always does, a death in the family changes everything. Eve and Anna cope in different ways, and also have to find some method of working together when faced with the challenge of what to do about the restaurant. I particularly loved the way things don’t go smoothly but all the tension and misunderstandings arise very naturally from the situation they’re in. Despite some of the serious content, the writing has a lightness of touch and a deft humour in the right places which carries you along in the best traditions of women’s fiction.
We’re also given a very refreshing insight into both women’s working lives, and – for once – it’s not all glamour and giggling. What a relief. Eve, of course, is mainly at the restaurant, dealing with difficult customers and tricky food inspectors, whilst Anna works at a charity. It’s nice to see the lives of real working women who don’t have jobs in the media or fashion. Good on Ms Hay for that.
Families also play a major role in the story, with Oliver’s cousin, and Eve’s and Anna’s children appearing throughout. Eve’s teenage children go through their own secondary dramas in terms of study and dating choices, and the interaction between Eve’s daughter, Georgia, and Anna was very good indeed:
Georgia was on her doorstep, her knees tucked under her chin. As soon as she saw Anna, she jumped to her feet and ran to her. She reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. Anna helped her into the house, and guided her into the sitting room. Georgia shivered on the sofa, dressed in drainpipes and a skimpy black vest top.
Anna sat down beside her, her arm around the girl’s trembling shoulders. ‘Can you tell me what’s wrong?’ she asked gently.
Ah, stepmothers, even virtual ones, can be very useful indeed on occasion, when you just can’t bear to upset your mother …
Overall, I did appreciate seeing how the two women developed and came to terms with their loss, and began to move on in their lives. However towards the end, the pace quickens so that a great deal of drama happens very speedily and is just as speedily resolved. I’m not sure we needed all this, and certainly not all at once, but it remains a good read nonetheless.
There is of course an eventual romantic connection for Eve and also for Anna, although the road to a new love life post-bereavement is a bumpy one. The ending for them both is very satisfying, although perhaps it’s a tad too speedily resolved in those final chapters, as I mention above. In any case, it’s a story I enjoyed and I’ll definitely read another of Hay’s books at some point.
The Two Mrs Robinsons, Orion Press 2007, ISBN 978-0752874531
Also available as an ebook
[Anne enjoys good quality women’s fiction and is always happy to discover a new author. Her first children’s book The Origami Nun, a tale of new schools, unlikely friends and a very magical nun, has just been published by Karabeth Press under her pseudonym Lori Olding.]