Working in a fading Manchester department store, four women hide their dark secrets: abuse, an illicit affair, huge debts and an overwhelming desire to have a child at any cost. Will their secrets destroy them or can they together find a solution?
I was invited to review this book by another author keen to share the word about his friend’s first novel. With nothing other than the cover and blurb to whet my appetite I was not sure what to expect. What I’m pleased to say, is that this was a very accomplished and engaging debut.
The story focuses around, Amanda, Marianne, Hayley and Jane who all work at Peltham’s, a fading Manchester department store. The story unfolds via alternating chapters that tell each woman’s individual story, while integrating them into a narrative that gives a wider picture of the store and it’s troubles. Initially wary, if not downright disapproving of each other in some cases, the four forge an unexpected bond. It’s a bond and a friendship that helps each strengthen their own resolve to sort their individual problems. It’s a reminder not to be judgemental – none of us know what goes on in someones head, or at home behind closed doors. It also serves to acknowledge the adage that a problem shared is a problem halved, or in this case quartered. Definitely a case of four heads are better than one.
The fairly brief blurb and possibly simplistic idea for a story, belies a novel that has rich characters, dark and dramatic secrets and a warmth and humour that balances and brings everything together into a cohesive whole. The themes covered are universal and unflinchingly dealt with as the women struggle with domestic abuse, debt, infertility and ironically given the latter, an unwanted pregnancy. It’s a story that has light and shade, definite goodies (the wonderful Charlie) and baddies (David, there is a circle of hell reserved just for you) and humorous interludes (Ada the shoplifter and a seedy neighbour). Given that the book has female friendship and solidarity at it’s heart, it would have been easy to give way to typical male stereotypes but what I loved about this book was that never happened. For every bad male character there was a good, honest decent man, ready to step up and show that not all men are the same.
I’m loath to really reveal much more than is told in the blurb as the joy lies in discovering each character, their problems and the ingenious solutions to some of them. Not all of which can be guessed at from the title. With such a strong debut I’m certainly looking forward to reading more from this author.