Himself doesn’t usually do mainstream fiction – particularly with curly writing on the cover… So when he enthusiastically recommended this book, I paid attention. Would I enjoy it, too?
After years of watching her best friends Ben and Claire try for a baby, Romily has offered to give them the one thing they most want. But Romily wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings that have taken hold of her and which threaten to ruin her friendship with Ben and Claire – and even destroy their marriage. Now there are three friends, two mothers and only one baby, and an impossible decision to make…
This wasn’t a book I would ever have picked up – but that didn’t prevent it from immediately hooking me into the story. Cohen’s style is readable and punchy. I initially really bonded strongly with Claire, but as the book progressed I increasingly sympathised with Romily. Cohen managed to write her small daughter without lapsing into sentimentality – not always an easy trick to accomplish when small children make intermittent appearances in an adult book. Especially when one of the main themes revolves around what makes a good mother – something of a burning question in these days of increasing concern about the way we parent. And as Romily finds herself unexpectedly bonding with her unborn baby, she is torn – does she keep her promise to her friends? Or keep the baby? Cohen certainly knows how to pull a story along. I devoured this book in three greedy gulps.
For me, the best bit was how both very different women reacted to the situation confronting them – and the way their relationship and attitude to each other changed. Claire’s story was no less engrossing or heart-tugging than Romily’s problem and anyone who has ever longed for a baby will sympathise with her plight. And while Romily tends to stumble into her own muddles through her impulsive nature, Claire is the victim of biology. Small wonder she becomes a tad over-controlling about the aspects of her life she can alter – I found the way Cohen depicts this both clever and moving.
Any grizzles? Well, while I found Jarvis completely convincing, Ben bothered me. On one hand, he is quite able to implicitly acknowledge Romily’s affection for him for years – to the extent that they go out for pub quizzes together as best mates. That seems entirely plausible. What I find difficult to swallow is his sudden need to then become painfully honest to Claire, given the dire consequences. Nope – didn’t ring true, given his capacity to gloss a thorny problem for years and years. However, given how much Cohen got right and the skill with which she negotiated this highly emotional story, it wasn’t a deal-breaker.
The ending works well – which again, is no mean feat, given the complexity of the problem. I certainly won’t be by-passing Julie Cohen’s books again, and if you’re looking for a well-written, readable novel about some of the complications that contemporary issues can pose for family life, I highly recommend this.