The thing is, when I read novels by Carole Matthews, Jill Mansell or Julie Cohen, I recognise the characters. I know these people. They’re familiar. I see them in everyday life. And when I see those people in fish and chips shops or the supermarket, or wherever, I know that they’ve got exciting or unique or secret things going on in their lives. They’ve got dramas going on. That’s one of the joys of contemporary romantic / comic fiction / chicklit / whatever you want to call it. It’s fiction that acknowledges the secrets and desires and disasters in the lives of people you feel like you know. This could be about you or people you care about.
Nell and Olly in Carole Matthews’ new book seem very real to me. I like the way we’re introduced to their hectic, hard working and rather modest lives right at the start – and how their stints in the chip shop and the pizza factory are organised around childcare. it’s Nell’s artistic talents that kick-start the plot, however, when she rallies her co-workers into giving the chip shop a make-over, which proves a huge success. After an attempt at enrolling in adult ed (which is disastrous – and would put anyone off going back to college to do Art…!) Nell winds up designing and creating her own range of handbags. They are a huge success – but success is not without its pitfalls and temptations. There are plenty of stumbling blocks to come – erotic, aesthetic and financial. And there is a wonderful, shocking reversal of fortune that sees her and her family almost ruined.
I love the way that Nell has real resilience and drive – building a business out of nothing and being brave enough to give up her ordinary job in order to take her destiny in hand. One minute she’s shovelling chips and scraps – the next she’s flying out to China to audition factories. It’s to Carole Matthews’ credit that she makes these leaps and bounds seem believable. She has her readers believing that they would be as resourceful and brave as Nell.
Terrific secondary characters in this, too – including the chip shop co-workers Constance and Phil and Jenny – who all have dramas of their own. In fact, I’d like to see more of all those characters (but then, I always think that, don’t i? with any book i enjoy?) And the villains in this are terrific, too. The slimy french fashionistas who steal Nell’s designs are a hoot (i love the punch-up on the cat-walk. I want to see it filmed!) The Miami fraudsters at the end are sinister and horrible – and the whole episode with Olly heading to the US for reparation and revenge is great. It’s like we’ve stepped into a Carl Hiaasen thriller for a chapter or two.)
Whoever thought I’d get so involved in a novel about making handbags? But I loved it. And I love the fact that Carole publishes two novels a year – Christmas and Summer. So it’s not *very* long until the next.
Reposted from the old blog, from the time of the hardback - reposted now to coincide with the paperback - and the START OF SUMMER!!!