A guide to POTSDAM
Feel good novel set in Manchester – the perils of reliving one’s youth
19th March 2017
The Mercury Travel Club by Helen Bridgett, feel good novel set in Manchester.
Meet Angie Shepherd who is well into a mid-life crisis as the book opens – perhaps a little on the late side for that at 53 years but, hey! – her husband Alan having left her for the younger Amanda (a skilled cake maker to boot). After 24 and a bit years of marriage, Angie hasn’t even had the chance to celebrate her Silver Wedding Anniversary. The future isn’t looking all that rosy.
Here is Angie on the left. How do I know what she looks like, I hear your cry? The clue lies in her Twitter handle @angieshepherd53 mentioned in the book – but if you explore further you will disappointingly find there have been no tweets from that account (as I write) since 1 September 2016.
Life isn’t doing Angie any favours, so she really needs to take the proverbial bull by the horns and “get a life”. Sticking her toe in the water she joins a book club and engages a life coach who casts a critical but supportive eye over each area of her life. Angie then has a brainwave – why not set up The Mercury Travel Club under the auspices of the travel agency where she works? Matching hobbies and interests with getaway destinations, she creates a range of carefully tailored trips to suit individual passions.
Angie is a little hapless but has the most amazing and genuine support from her friends, who are just willing her to succeed on all fronts. It is also time to resurrect the Granny-Okes, a 1980s tribute act (they arrive on stage with zimmer frames only to cast them to one side as soon Gloria Gaynor belts out “I will survive”, or The Weather Girls robustly exclaim “It’s raining Men”). She can also call on the skills she honed way back as an airline cabin attendant, a ‘stewardess’ in her day.
And that is the tenet of the book – how to survive a post divorce life but actually get stuck in and find enjoyment; much to the chagrin of daughter Zoe, who, even in her twenties, can be mortally embarrassed by her mother’s antics. Zoe deals with that by retreating into baking, getting ready for a Bake-Off (watch this space, it’s Amanda’s thing, as mentioned, as well!). There’s Angie’s mum, too, who is always on hand for some sage advice, whilst on the look-out for any freebies.
There are potential house moves, speed dating, karaoke, fortune telling and two gnomes to perk things up….
The book is set in Manchester, but it’s not strongly depicted. There is a quick trip to a haunted house further north, an evening in Crosby, a chapter set in Monaco (“No matter how well you think you’ve dressed, in Monaco you’ll always feel slightly shabby” – yup, I get that!!). Indeed, Monaco is the only place you are likely to encounter a Hennessy Venom GT, one of the top ten most expensive cars in the world – and nope, I hadn’t heard of this car either, pictured to the left. (You can’t say you don’t learn anything new on the TripFiction blog!). Angie is then cruising to Cognac (well, to La Rochelle) and off to Bilbao with family members in tow – including her ex and his new missus, which isn’t an ideal set up, of course. Magic shenanigans relieve some of the punters of their expensive jewellery and the family tensions are broken. Phew. And finally it’s a quick trip to New York where the group stays in The Standard Hotel overlooking the Hudson – described as a “funky” hotel with a “deadly” bathroom (where you can sit on the loo taking in the full view of New York). This makes a fitting end for these characters’ adventures. Food, cocktails and films (set in New York of course) pass the time and Angie is soon back in Manchester preparing for an Award’s Ceremony. Will she win anything?
In TripFiction terms the book has the potential to be an ace read for #literarywanderlust but there is in actual fact little depth when it comes to the settings. The focus of the novel is on Angie and how she gets a life. It is well observed, it is humorous, and delightful in many ways. My reservation is that there are just far too many themes, too many ingredients like the cakes that Zoe and Amanda conjure up. It can at times be quite a struggle to blend all the diverse elements into a whole, cohesive story. It’s like continuous channel hopping, and as it says on the cover “the chaos come free”…. It certainly does at times.
But overall a feel-good, entertaining story; and I do rather fancy staying at The Standard when I next go to New York! Thanks for the tip!
Tina for the TripFiction Team