In her third novel, London-based author Woods (The Ex Factor, 2016, etc.) makes the case for intentional happiness in the face of tragedy.
Two years after the sudden death of her infant son, Annie Hebden is mired in sorrow and holding her life together by a thread. Divorced, she lives in a dingy flat with a roommate she avoids, works at a job she hates, and now must manage a new crisis: the hospitalization of her mother due to early dementia. It’s there that she meets Polly, a posh, outlandishly dressed 35-year-old who seems full of cheer, knows everyone at the hospital, and just happens to be dying of brain cancer. Woods makes it clear, as well, that there are romantic betrayals in each woman’s past. Somehow the sheer weight of their individual tragedies creates a balance between them, as does Polly’s commitment to positivity and Annie’s to anguish. With three months to live, Polly is determined to undertake 100 days of happiness and successfully drags a bewildered, resentful Annie along with her. Some mild hilarity ensues but more interesting is the push and pull between the women as they react against but benefit from each other’s tendencies. Along the way they build a small community: Annie’s roommate, Polly’s brother, and Polly’s grumpy Scottish neurologist, who, it is clear from his introduction, will be Annie’s love interest. The novel suffers slightly under the weight of all its misfortunes—in addition to its two leads, each of the aforementioned personae carries drama, the message being, of course, that no one’s life is perfect.
Woods' belief in the transformative effect of happiness is a bit fantastic, but the characters are heartfelt and charming, so the novel moves well and is moving, too.