Thursday, November 13, 2008
The Rise and Fall of a Domestic Diva by Sarah May
Living on the upwardly mobile Prendergast Road, Kate Hunter's particular truth is that her son has just been rejected by the only decent school in the neighbourhood and so is doomed to a life of crime, drugs and being shunned by everyone else on the street. And she might, just might, be guilty of sometimes, in moments of extreme pressure, forgetting she has a daughter, a bundle of screaming, excreting noise called Flo… Not to mention that she doesn't always buy Fair Trade coffee, she sometimes isn't as nice to her husband as she ought to be, and she's convinced that one day all this will come crashing down around her ears.
But Kate never has a spare moment to stop to think that, beneath the perfect sheen of her friends' and neighbours' amazingly trouble-free lives, beneath the freshly-ironed shirts and organic home-grown veg, lies the same half-truths, the same uncertainties and the same desperation to keep up with the Joneses - who just happen to be her.
The novel starts off quirky and quite funny and rapidly turns darkly comedic making you you feel a bit guilty and unsure if you should be laughing at or feeling truly sorry for the characters in the novel.
It is written in a frank conversational way that draws the reader in and you quickly become absorbed in the lives of the families on Prendergast Road. There are snapshots and vignettes of home-lives that hit truly close to the mark, like the obsession about making sure the kids' get into the right school and having to attend a certain parish church to make sure that happens. I personally have friends who are currently doing this - which freaks me out a bit, to be honest. I hope they stick it out and don't turn completely into the characters from Sarah May's book!
The characters ache with realness and you feel empathy with them, understanding their motivations all too easily and identifying with them. I've personally not had a baby to rule my life to the point where you can't think straight, but I've seen it happen. The story-line links the various families throughout and it is all too easy to lose yourself in this very shrewdly told story. All of us admire some of our friends and think that their lives are oh so perfect - but are they really? The Rise and Fall of a Domestic Diva examines our own preconceptions and the lies we tell the world by pretending to hold it "together", creating the image of the perfect couple or the perfect family. Those who do not fit the norm are shunned, as they make you feel uncomfortable and worried that their bad luck will rub off. So you tolerate them, should you happen across them, but you keep your distance. The novel brings us face to face with how we walk past people who need help as we are so wrapped up in our own lives, striving for so much, pretending so much...that we forget to be real.
If the cover makes you think you've happened across a light and airy novel, do not be fooled. The writing is substantial and deals with a lot more than meets the eye. It is grown up and frank and scything and a compulsive read. I did enjoy it and although I recognised many of the characters in the novel as true archetypes of some of the people I know, it also made feel a bit uncomfortable - it sort of makes you put your life under the magnifying glass and you realise that there are more to the happy families you see than meets the eye.
A well written book by an author who already has steadfast followers. I am sure this will garner her more fans and I would recommend it to those readers who are keen to try something a bit different this festive period.
Find some interesting information about the author, Sarah May here. The Rise and Fall of a Domestic Diva will be available from 1st December 2008 and will be published by Harper Collins as a Paperback Original.