It’s that time of year again when everything is covered in a sprinkle of glitter and this book is no exception. It’s a sweet, easy Christmas read that I hope will bring a little joy to the dark evenings.
Cathy lives alone after losing her mum to a long, difficult illness. As her primary carer for the last decade of her life, Cathy is left at a loss both emotionally and practically. While her job at a flower stall brings her lots of happiness, she finds herself looking for more and meets some wonderful characters along the way. She befriends a similarly childless woman at a local coffee morning and so begins a weekly cookery club that will enrich Cathy’s life in all the ways one would expect from a light-hearted contemporary love story.
First and foremost, I am thrilled that this book has not just one but THREE childless women at its heart! Cathy is our protagonist of course but there is also Fleur and Erica. The writing is witty and fun, with serious topics handled sensitively. The characters burst to life and each of them has a distinct voice, Fleaur being my particular favourite for her outspoken and reflective attitude on life. Even as I write this review a few weeks after finishing the book, I can clearly picture each of them vividly in my mind.
The ‘love story’ is subtle enough that I wouldn’t call this a typical romance novel – I felt it was more a book about Cathy’s own life journey and development and the romantic element was a side-note. So perfect for those who may be wary of picking up a book labelled as a romance. Similarly, unlike many, many other contemporary works with a romantic plot, there is no baby ending.
Tansy is another character that I warmed to easily. Having worked with teenagers with difficult families for much of my adult life, I think Tilly did a wonderful job of getting the effects of this across through Tansy. When I finished the book, I genuinely wondered what might come of her (and even asked the author as much – see Q&A below!)
I don’t have any real criticism of the book except to highlight the very British tradition of being self-deprecating, which can be a little frustrating to read but also is a very real problem (in fact, I recently listened to this podcast with Jameela Jamil in which she talks about the #femalebrag and how it’s such an important step for feminism but one that is difficult to make for fear of being seen as arrogant). Cathy didn’t think much of herself, that much was clear from the start, but I think the journey she went on through the book went some way to addressing this and giving her a much needed boost in her confidence and self-belief.
There are few triggers in this book, some characters have children.
I was staggered by how un-baby-focussed this book was, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Q&A with author Tilly Tennant…
There are an abundance of childless characters in this story, for which I and the childless community thank you profusely! Was this intentional? Could you talk a little bit about the reasons for this?
I have to be honest; I didn’t consciously set out to make so many characters childless. Whether they had children or not wasn’t a decision I made for them at all; it was simply where I thought they’d naturally be given their life journeys. Sometimes having children drives a narrative and sometimes having none does the same, but in this book it was simply how things were. Certainly for Cathy, thinking about her situation it seemed perfectly logical that she’d be childless and that having them wouldn’t be a priority for her either. She’s built her life around other relationships that she values equally. It’s the same for Fleur and Erica – the events of their lives have simply led them down paths other than motherhood. I try to write real women with real experiences, which means some will have children and some won’t. It also means some will be happy with their lot and some won’t, some will actively try to change their situation and some will just accept it and concentrate on other things. What I always want for my characters is optimism and the strength (even if it takes a while to find it) to move past the things they can’t control and to build the best lives they can regardless.
Fleur, Erica and Cathy are all very different women. How did you find writing such varied characters?
I think this goes back to life experiences again. All three women have had different lives and so it was natural to write them very differently. I enjoy the challenge of that, and often think about women I know from my own life and how they might react to events when I’m trying to figure out how a character might react too.
Cathy, Fleur and Erica have all had heartbreak in their past. Cathy gets over it by concentrating on what her mum needs, where Fleur has a large family to turn to. Erica has to be the strength for her struggling siblings and so she deals with heartache by channelling it there. When we meet them, Erica has already found love a second time and is remarried where Fleur hasn’t, choosing instead to focus on making a success of her business. I think that even though they’re all very different, there’s also a lot about Cathy, Fleur and Erica that is the same, particularly when it comes to protecting the people they care about. They’re all very loyal and dedicated to those in their lives who matter most to them.
Tansy has clearly had a difficult life so far – what do you see in her future?
I feel Tansy is lucky to have met Cathy. She and Matthias will provide support and somewhere to shelter when things go wrong at home and they both have faith in her in a way her own mother, Michelle, doesn’t. Michelle has never encouraged Tansy and has never really taken much of an interest in anything she might hope to achieve, but Cathy does. I see them forming a strong bond and I see Cathy providing the gentle guidance and encouragement Tansy needs to turn her life around and become a successful young woman.
Cathy’s situation begins to improve when she goes to a coffee morning at her local church – what was the thinking behind this setting?
The one thing about church is that anyone is welcome. It’s a place that’s usually easily accessible, there to support the lost and lonely, and it brings all sorts of community members together. At the beginning of the book Cathy is very lost and lonely and a church felt like a gentle place for a nervous Cathy to begin again without her mother – the person who had defined Cathy for most of her adult life. I also get that religion is not a fix all for everyone, which is why it felt like the community side of church life rather than the actual religion was a better place for her to be. The coffee mornings give her access to that and also plenty of opportunity to do the things that make her feel of value, like baking for her friends.
And finally, of course, what’s your favourite cake?
That’s so hard to answer! I never met a cake I didn’t like, but if I had to choose only one to eat forever then it would probably be a humble yet classic Victoria sponge, because you really can’t go wrong with one of those.