2012 REVIEWS: GENERAL #5

LONE WOLF
Author: Jodi Picoult
Allen & Unwin RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Lone WolfOne life hanging in the balance, a family torn apart. A brother and sister need to decide whether to keep their father on life support, or to donate his organs.

To donate organs or not – that is a question many people ask themselves during their lifetime. Many make the decision, one way or another, but fail to make their wishes clear to their loved ones. At its most basic, this is what Lone Wolf is about – a father who made his wishes clear to one person, his son, but failed to communicate them to other family members.

When Edward tries to act on his father’s wishes, his sister, Cara, is distraught. She wants to hold on to the hope that a miracle may manifest, that her father will live on. Her brother has not seen their father for six years – who is he to make this decision? As they question each others’ motivations, they are forced also to question their notions of family and of themselves.

Once again, Picoult has explored an ethical and moral dilemma with her characteristic finesse and keen perception.  Her characters are vividly real, as are the situations they find themselves in. Using her tried and proven formula, Picoult persuades the reader to consider alternative sides by presenting the story from multiple narrators – everyone has a say, even some of the minor characters – an effective device that adds depth to an already thought-provoking concept. Each perspective is presented as equally valid; each is equally compelling. As a reader, you are encouraged to reassess your own viewpoints, to ‘just listen’ and read sans prejudice.

The wolf allegory is interesting and at first, difficult to relate to, much as the character of Luke, the father who leaves his family to join a pack of wolves. It’s hard to imagine a father doing that. However, Picoult’s research on wolf behaviour is commendable, making this aspect of the book interesting in its own right. And, as the story weaves tighter, the allegorical link to Luke’s own family becomes more apparent. The title “Lone Wolf” could relate to any of the lead characters. In their own way, they are all ‘lone wolves’ forging their way through life. Do they make their decisions as a pack – should they – or as a lone wolf?

A story about hope, anger, grief, love and relationships, Lone Wolf is realistic, compelling, moving and fascinating by turns. The more I read, the more I enjoyed it. The ending was more fitting than gut-wrenching; I felt at peace with the way things worked, despite the twists and turns that took place. Only one thing: the epilogue is a ‘nice’ touch, but I’m not sure that it was needed or added any more depth to the story, except maybe to justify Luke’s behaviour.

Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin Australia.
For information about registering for organ donation in Australia, click here.

This review also appeared in the Weekend/Kwinana Courier.


MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE, THE
Author: Marian Keyes
Penguin RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

The Mystery of Mercy Close (Walsh Family, #5)Combine dry and/or sarcastic wit and a bunch of eccentric characters with a bunch of laugh-out-loud moments and strange, only-in-a-novel situations and you have the basic structure of a Marian Keyes novel. Add a backstory involving depression that slowly makes its way to the forefront and you haveThe Mystery of Mercy Close, a darkly humorous novel that has more depth than the blurb suggests.

The story is the fifth and final of the Walsh Family novels and Keyes’ fans have been waiting a long time for this one. The novel focuses on Helen, the youngest of the Walsh sisters. Her easily bored, sarcastic, don’t suffer fools approach is off-putting to employers – they employ her for a short time and then sack her. As one employer put it, she looks sweet … but she’s not. She’s pleasantly surprised when a Private Investigator course she signs up for turns out to suit her “awkward personality” and so starts her new career. At first there are plenty of job offers, but when the Global Financial Crisis hits, PIs are seen as luxury items. Helen’s story starts when she moves back into her parents’ home after the bank forecloses on her apartment. Short on money, she takes on a missing person case, even though the lead (and money) comes via Jay Parker, the ex-boyfriend she never wanted to see again.

The missing person is Wayne Diffney, aka the ‘Wacky One’ from boy band Laddz. With a sell-out reunion gig in five days, Wayne needs to be found fast and Jay is convinced Helen is the one to do it. The Where’s Wayne game becomes a much-needed diversion from her financial woes, her parents, the confusion surrounding her new relationship with police detective Artie, and the growing unease in her mind. It doesn’t take long for Helen to realise that Wayne simply doesn’t want to be found, but when she suggests calling off the hunt, pressure comes from all around. There are big money and even bigger egos at stake …

Helen is an interesting character. I found her difficult to like initially, so the first quarter of the book was slow going for me. There’s a detachment about her character that keeps readers at bay (in the same way that she would keep people at bay) – her disdain for others is not particularly endearing. As I read on, I started to realise that her detachment was a mask covering her depression and anxiety; to the outside world, Helen appears sarcastic and smart-mouthed, but readers see a different side – a mind in turmoil. Keyes has tackled the subject of depression (an illness she has battled, so writes from experience) in a realistic and almost self-deprecating manner; her message is clear – depression can happen to anyone, no matter how strong they seem. I found the Walsh family’s reaction to Helen’s illness interesting – there wasn’t a lot of true understanding from them, which was frustrating but would mirror reality – only when it happens to you do you really understand how depression feels.

There was a lot going on in Helen’s life, which also mirrored the turmoil in her mind. Unemployment, foreclosure, moving back in with parents, developing relationship with a father-of-three (whose ex is still in the picture), buried feelings about the past … what this amounts to is a multi-layered story that is laugh-out-loud at times, but has an emotive core that will resound with anyone who has experienced depression.

I’ve read a couple of Marian Keyes’ novels prior to this – I liked Rachel’s Holiday, but This Charming Man not as much. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something that has stopped me from really loving Keyes’ work, so I haven’t read all of her backlist … and it took me a while to really get into The Mystery of Mercy Close. I’m glad I persevered; it was well worth it. Now on the to-do list – read the rest of the Walsh Family novels.

Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. This copy was courtesy of Penguin Books Australia.


 NEXT BEST THING, THE

Author: Jennifer Weiner
Simon & Schuster RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

The Next Best ThingEVER had a great idea and then someone has run with it and changed it so much that you barely remember your initial idea? That’s pretty much the storyline of Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, The Next Best Thing.When Ruth (Ruthie) Saunders heads to the west coast with her grandmother in tow all her hopes are pinned on being hired as a television writer. Four years later she is waiting with bated breath for The Call – when it comes, it seems all her dreams have come true. Her sitcom, The Next Best Thing, has been given the green light and she now has the coveted title of “showrunner”. She shrugs off warnings that everyone – from number-crunching executives to demanding actors – will turn her show into a money spinner, but is soon forced to face facts: what she wants, what she dreams her show to be is far less important. Thanks for the idea, off you go love.

Ruthie now has to choose what is more important – integrity to herself and her characters, or just getting the show on air. Whatever she does, it will affect someone and she doesn’t really want to hurt anyone. Can she stand up to the force of Hollywood and insist on getting her own way? Or will she cave in to pressure? Compounding her dilemma is her unrequited love for one of the Two Daves (her former employers) and the news that her grandmother is getting married … all up, Ruthie’s life has more drama than her sitcom has laughs at present.

As a character, Ruthie is flawed in a number of ways. She’s weak and self-absorbed – nowhere is this seen more than when she can’t find it in herself to be happy for her grandmother. The victim of an horrific car crash that killed her parents, Ruthie is damaged emotionally and scarred physically. We’re supposed to be on her side.  While she does rise above her challenges to follow her dreams, her lack of strength when it counts most is sad. She does redeem herself and her character evolves as expected, but I feel that more could have been made of this rather than rushing it at the end. The grandmother was a lovely character – supportive and Ruthie’s rock through thick and thin. She deserved more from Ruthie than she got. The Two Daves added a great comedic touch – I liked what they added to the story – laughs and levity.

What I liked most about the novel was the inside look at the television industry – it was interesting, detailed and removed the glamour. It’s not for the thin-skinned – for anyone wanting to get a foot in the door, I’d recommend this book just for that insight. However, was it really necessary to apply the same attention to detail in the sex scenes? Too much information – and too much about Ruthie’s pleasure…doesn’t it take two to tango?

If you’re looking for something light to read, this is not a bad start. It’s fair enough, just not fantastic – some more editing would have helped. It is funny in parts, but whether it shows the best of Jennifer Weiner is arguable. I’m going to have a look at some of her earlier novels to compare.

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.


MERYL STREEP MOVIE CLUB, THE
Author: Mia March
Simon & Schuster RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

The Meryl Streep Movie ClubSometimes all I want to do is curl up with an easy, feelgood read, something that lifts me out of the doldrums and into a happy place. It’s at those times that I reach for a book just like The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March.

Set in coastal Maine, with a boutique guesthouse the main hub of the story, The Meryl Streep Movie Club begins with a flashback to a tragic night in which Lolly’s husband, sister and brother-in-law are all killed. Years later, she summons her daughter Kat and her nieces Isabel and June for a big announcement. All three assume she is going to sell The Three Captains, the guesthouse that is a place of respite for many. What they hear shocks them, but ends up drawing them closer together after years of discord. Through Meryl Streep-themed movie nights – set up to appear as a distraction – they find common ground, share secrets and connect as grown women.

Isabel is recovering from a broken heart after discovering her husband in the arms of another woman, June is a single mother working in a book shop and living week-to-week, and Kat has put her dreams on hold so she can help her mother run the guesthouse. And Lolly has her own painful secret, long-buried but not forgotten. Each of the women is a likeable character who develops over the course of the novel – Lolly represents the catalyst but develops less so than the others; the focus is really on the three girls she brought up and wants to see happy. The movies, no doubt carefully selected by Lolly to help the women open up, causes them to reflect on their lives and choices – could they, or should they, do things differently? What is holding them back from being whole women?

A fast-paced novel in which each of the characters finds some degree of closure or strength to make changes, I found this a satisfying and enjoyable read. Yes, it’s sweetly predictable in parts. Yes, the ending was a bit rushed and some things seemed a little too neatly tied up. But, there was also a lovely reminder that women need to connect with other women and a non-confrontational message that life is too short to be weighed down by hurts and what ifs.

I finished the book with a desire to watch some of the Meryl Streep movies I hadn’t already seen and a smile on my face – at the time, it hit the spot.

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.