THE BEST MAN
Author: Dianne Blacklock
Macmillan Australia RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
May the best man win.
After reading a few glowing reviews, it was a pleasure to read this refreshing, funny book for myself. In some ways, The Best Man reminded me of Sophie Kinsella’s books – light, with plenty of laughs, albeit with a less-ditzy lead character. The novel asks whether the best man is always the right man and uses the stories of Madeleine, a publicist for a publishing house, and Liv, Madeleine’s boss to explore the dilemma.
In a couple of weeks, Madeleine and her American fiancé, writer Henry Darrow, will finally be married. With Henry, Madeleine has found the yin to her yang – or whichever way round it is. He gives her much-needed balance and Madeleine can’t wait for them to exchange vows. Everything’s almost done and there’s just one person to meet – the best man. Aiden is Henry’s college friend and he’s just arrived in Sydney ahead of the wedding. It doesn’t take long for Madeleine to notice that things are different when Aiden is around – it’s lighter and more chilled out. Like Madeleine, Aiden doesn’t mind a drink at the end of the day … and before long Henry seems like a bit of a stick in the mud in comparison.
Liv’s marriage ended in divorce after her husband, Rick, cheated on her. He seems to be working his way through the alphabet in his choice of live-in loves, and Liv is well and truly over it. She’s happy for Madeleine, but as for herself, she’s of the firm opinion that she and her twin sons are better off as they are. Her mother doesn’t agree – she thinks Liv should take Rick back, because after all, he’s the father of their children, so he must be the best man for Liv, right? When Liv meets David, she starts to see possibilities again … but Rick and Liv’s mother have other ideas.
I was giggling within minutes of starting this book: Madeleine’s mother (a complete contrast to Liv’s controlling mother) was so blissfully unworldly that I couldn’t help but want to have a cup of tea with her. There are moments like that scattered through the book – feel-good moments and laugh-out loud moments. A bit later, I felt decidedly irritated; Rick, Liv’s ex-husband, was the subject of my irritation and I just wanted to shake him and give him a good kick in the pants. Other characters elicited a range of feelings, ranging from “you go, girl” support, to frustration to “there’s something about so-and-so” that doesn’t quite ring true. Trying very hard not to spoil things here! As for the key characters, Madeleine and Liv, I liked them both, but I felt like I identified more with Liv and wanted to know more about her story. Madeleine’s “cold feet” and the ease and speed with which she started to doubt Henry’s character was a little sad, but highlighted a lack of communication between the couple in some important areas.
Blacklock’s empathetic style of writing won me over – her stories ring true, with the humour lightening up (but not dumbing down) some complicated but believable situations (sometimes of the characters’ own making). I think this story raises something that’s within us, no matter what age – the questioning of choices we’ve made, we’re making or we’re yet to make. Certainly, I’ve had my fair share of big choices, some life-changing and while it’s ideal to think “no regrets”, it’s also a very human condition that we second-guess or revisit choices made. And if we don’t, others often expect us to – they either don’t like our choice or don’t understand it. Having Liv as a slightly older mentor was a lovely touch – she provided a voice of experience that Madeleine would have missed had she only had friends in her same age group or life situation; Liv’s voice also recognised that forty-something (and older!) women aren’t past it – they still have lots of living to do and love to give, but hopefully have a deeper insight into who they are.
A great book, with well-developed characters, a liberal sprinkling of laughs and plenty of warmth, The Best Man is definitely worth picking up. I found it hard to put down once I’d started!
Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.
Click here for a sneak peek.
Bookish treat: After the talk of fruitcake in this book, I wouldn’t mind a slice … but I’ll eat an apple instead.
Thanks for a really thoughtful and detailed review, Monique. So glad you mentioned Madeleine’s mum – I think I’d like to sit and have a cuppa with her too!