- Book: Because of You
- Location: Bristol, London
- Author: Dawn French
I listened to this as an audiobook and as it is narrated by the author herself, there is a real quality of diction and a good variety of voices and accents. It is entertaining and well produced and you can tell that she reads the text overall with warmth and a smile. The author is a compelling narrator and storyteller, she is after all quite a national treasure.
The start of a new Millennium – 1st of January 2000 – sees two couples in hospital in London, both in the throes of giving birth. Julian and Anna are in one room and Hope and Quiet Isaac in another. They are moving through the stages of labour, each couple progressing at their own pace. But only one mother gets to take a daughter home.
The story then focusses mainly on the mother-daughter relationship as baby Minnie grows into womanhood and finds herself pregnant at 17. This is the trigger point when all secrets that have followed Minnie and mother around start to be revealed. The reader already knows much of the story, therefore there are no real surprises as such. It is the emotional fall-out that takes centre stage.
Many reviewers have been bowled over by the heart-rending nature of story and have really loved it: “sad and happy” “full of love” “emotionally draining” “a real tear jerker”. The Guardian writes: ‘Dawn tackles the big ones – love, death, grief, childhood, motherhood, parenthood – head on’. And indeed she does.
I rather struggled with the, I suppose, rather simplistic response to a very serious event which then snowballed. When the big reveal comes there is of course upset, which then is made better by a cup of tea, together with the response from Minnie “Soz for the ugly things I said” in the heat of the moment. You would expect Minnie to be outraged and, well, beside herself, apoplectic, devastated and traumatised (at the very least) when the situation is laid bare and the “ugly things” expressed would be the least of their worries.
Considering the gravity of past events, Minnie would be facing all the big – and VERY powerful and overwhelming – emotions that come thundering down on her all at once: to wit, deceit, death, rejection, abandonment, secrecy, shock, belonging, loss and many more; these could only to a tiny extent be mitigated by a mother’s devoted and unwavering love. The intensity of the crisis would be incredibly hard to manage for everyone involved – and especially for Minnie; and to be honest a quick cuppa and apology really don’t cut it. Secrets in the family – and this particular secret is a corker – invariably crack a family apart. In the novel it all felt far too schmalzy given what happened.
The ending also is quite fantastical. All I will say is that when there is an unexpected death, a coroner has to get involved and organ donation is not on the agenda. Just no way!
In order to keep the storyline from getting too morose, I suspect the author has picked out characters whom she has moulded into real stereotypes, clichés even. Julius is a ghastly backbencher who is a narcissist, determined to do anything to promote his career. He hopes to be the first PM of colour (sorry, Rishi, if you (ever) had your eye on that position), he is clearly in part modelled on a specific someone in our government and is, frankly loathsome and crass, at times consigned to being a buffoon (clue!), in order to make his behaviour somehow more palatable. The author clearly has had a lot of fun constructing him but then, she has a very suitable ministerial model from which to work, in all his full awfulness and venal ugliness. One of the police officers involved in the story is a parody of a thick policeman who muddles his metaphors which is funny but only up to a point. He is a rather depressing and stereotyped character and further lets the storytelling side down.
I could see the charm in the writing that others have praised in the narrative – it is indeed warm and heartfelt but sadly it really didn’t work for me. The publicists have highlighted Russell Brand’s one word comment – “incredible” – to promote the book but if you look up the dictionary definition of ‘incredible’ you will see that the word actually means “impossible to believe / difficult to believe. Extraordinary“. I am firmly in Russell’s camp.
Location isn’t strong