Thirty-something Ali, a mother of two, is married to Colin, her childhood sweet heart. While Ali can’t help remembering the cool guy she fell in love with during her school days, she is disappointed that she doesn’t fancy Colin anymore.
And while he occasionally exhibits consideration for his wife, he is for the most part an obnoxious presence, belittling Ali’s poorly paid job in community arts and sniffing out the threat to his marriage in the form of Owen, a fun-loving artist who starts working with Ali and flirting with her.
All Ali really wants is a fulfilling career and happy family life with her husband and children, Jade and Mark. (In other words, she wants it all but the dream seems to be eluding her.)
Jade, a south Dublin Uggs-boot wearing 11-year old, who speaks with an affected American drawl, is intuitive and knows that her parents’ marriage is in trouble.
There’s also the larger-than-life Corina, Ali’s best friend, who dispenses marital advice, despite never having maintained a relationship for longer than three months. She thinks that all Ali needs to do is spice up her sex-life with Colin. However, in an effort to reintroduce passion in the bedroom, Ali’s purchase of sexy underwear goes terribly wrong when in a moment of madness, she takes a selfie, wearing the lingerie. Predictably, it ends up in unintended hands.
A weekend work trip to Amsterdam (to view shows that may be suitable for the Dublin arts centre) involving Ali and her colleagues, offers a blatant opportunity for Owen to make his move on Ali.
She has confided in Owen about her flagging marriage. When, after misgivings from Colin, Ali gets the green light to go on the trip, she, in a cringe-inducing response to Owen’s query as to whether she is going, replies: “...Daddy Pig did give permission and I am indeed travelling this Friday to the land of tulips, sweet Amsterdam.”
The ‘pig’ reference comes from a joke about Peppa Pig. The recurring reference points in this work of chick-lit are of brands and designer labels. Even within the confines of the genre, the constant name-checking of everything from Jo Malone perfume to a House of Fraser duvet, reads like overblown product placement (though unpaid for).
Without giving the story away, the weekend in Amsterdam actually takes an odd unexpected turn. This makes sticking with the book worthwhile.
Told over a week, events start to ricochet up on the work trip. With free time on their hands, Owen introduces Ali to the delights of hash cake while he favours something a little stronger.
The sub-plot centres round Corina’s love life. That she is sensuous and self-indulgent is over-emphasised.
She seems to be constantly licking cream from her fingers or some such luxuriance. She’s reminiscent of Samantha in Sex and the City. Even when she plays the ‘good girl,’ holding off from sex until the fourth date with a guy she thinks is ‘a keeper’, Corina is let down by men.
Men do not come out of this novel very well. It’s hard to excuse Colin’s constant put- downs of his wife. She can do nothing right. He even begrudges Ali her weekly get-together with Corina in various restaurants.
Colin wants a stay-at-home wife. He rages that her job only pays for ‘a stranger’ to mind the kids after school. With an attitude like that, can this marriage be saved?
Black & White Publishing, €11.70