Despite a wonderfully cheeky first-person narration, this second novel from British author Maxted (Getting Over It, 2000) occasionally gets lost in its own plot.
Natalie is terminally good. Not the dreary kind, just the tidy, polite, always-pleasing-others sort of good. Up until now, it’s served her well. Though she’s bullied by her golden big brother Tony, harangued by her well-meaning mother, and stuck in a proper relationship with an accountant, life moves on amiably enough until her best friend, Babs, gets married. Natalie feels as if she’s been dumped, and a downward spiral ensues. She begins dating Chris, the manager of a really awful rock band, who introduces her to the world of drugs and bad manners; she loses her p.r. job at a London ballet company; she becomes so thin that her hair begins to fall out. That’s when Babs confronts Natalie with her suspicions that she’s become anorexic. It comes as a shock to both Natalie and the reader, over a hundred pages into the story, that mental illness may be the cause of her dramatic transformation. But it wasn’t only working with prima ballerinas that gave Natalie a warped self-image, it was also a lifetime of acquiescing to everyone’s wishes, of always being the good girl. With the help of Alex, a Pilates instructor, Natalie attempts to find inner peace (though she dreads these New Age notions) and slowly becomes more assertive. She gives her nosey Mum a talking to; she reveals Tony’s shameful secret, bringing him down a rung or two on the family ladder; she ditches Chris, and finally begins to eat more than dry toast and coffee. Unfortunately, her efforts go sour through a series of misunderstandings that even threaten a promising relationship with Babs’s kind brother Andy.
Maxted’s people are endearing, and she has a flair for comic turns of phrase, but a meandering story dampens the fun.