A first novel that offers a uniquely British twist on the erosion of a middle-aged woman’s confidence.
Hope Lyndhurst-Steele, high-powered editor of the Cosmopolitan-like London glossy Jasmine, experiences the usual midlife malaise as she approaches her 50th birthday. Her sex life with husband Jack, a laid-back physiotherapist, is ho-hum. Her 18-year-old son Olly, about to take a gap year before starting university, is frustratingly uncommunicative. But things really go sour after a New Year’s party (her birthday falls on Jan. 1) at which, fueled by too many mojitos, Hope topples to the floor in mid-salsa. Deposed in a Machiavellian office coup that rebrands Jasmine as a neo-’50s Good Housekeeping, she heads for Paris to stock up on marriage-salvaging lingerie. In a brasserie, she meets hunky American professor Dan and falls in lust. On her return to London after a one-night stand, Jack, surprising Hope in midflirt with a bitter diatribe about how self-absorbed and insufferable she’s been, moves out. Her mother, with whom Hope has always had an uneasy détente (Mum blamed early marriage and kids for stunting her emotional and artistic growth), announces that she’s dying of cancer. Best friend Maddy, pregnant by her late sister’s husband Ed (they got together while sis was in hospice), feels such remorse that she refuses to tell Ed he’s the father; when Hope does, it’s goodbye BFF. Hope’s new friends Sally and Nick, bereaved parents struggling to found a haven for critically ill children, are not as saintly as they appear. Is Sally having an affair with Jack or is he just working out the knots in her back? Is Nick coming on to Hope during a benefit trek across Morocco? The trek helps put Hope’s problems in perspective, and she moves toward reconciliation with the people she’s alienated, whether intentionally or not.
Episodic and preachy in spots, but Hope’s candid, sardonic voice and the author’s biting wit elevate the book above the formulaic.