LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
‘What’s this, by the way?’
I turned, mid-riffle. Lucy was gingerly extracting a purple thong with a fingertip and thumb from a pile she’d found on the table.
‘What d’you think it is? I’m branching out from the gents’ boxers into ladies’s stuff. Is my phone under there?’ I dived beneath the towering pile of lingerie.
‘Why so sparkly?’ She peered at the encrusted sequins on the front.
‘Because it excites the gentleman friend, I imagine – or maybe it excites the lady as she’s trollying round boring old Tesco’s – I don’t know, use your imagination. Ring my phone, would you, Luce?’ I patted my pockets, glancing about the chaotic kitchen.
‘And you’re charging nineteen pounds fifty?’ She blinked at the price tag in astonishment.
I snatched it. ‘OK, make it Waitrose.’
She dropped the thong disdainfully back on the pile. ‘So the Faulkner family are flogging kinky underwear now, are they? Classy.’
commentary: About Last Night… is a light romantic yummy mummy book, grownup chicklit, with some entertaining passages. It would be an ideal holiday or aeroplane read.
The narrator, Molly, is a widow and – as shown in the extract – doing whatever is necessary to keep the family afloat. She lives in the country on a smallholding with two of her children, and she also sells underwear and soap by mail order. Life is tough, money a constant worry, and she has concerns about her children. But she has a good relationship with them (there is some shockingly realistic dialogue between parent and child…) and has friends and neighbours all around. Then the possibility of an inheritance pops up, and she considers going back to London – somewhere she only left because her now-dead husband wanted to move to the country. And it turns out there are some secrets in her past, and the truth (about her marriage and that move out of the city) is not simple.
The book is amusing, and an easy read – and Alliott tells a story well, as I think the extract above shows: she is good at convincing dialogue that moves the plot along, and tells you about the characters, and entertains. At times the book resembles (of all unlikely things) Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals - feisty widow, unruly children, no money, unsuitable adventures.
I wasn’t convinced by the sudden changes of tone, and the varying realism of the story – the exchanges with the hideous teenage children were some of the best bits of the book, and the author moved towards talking about betrayal, infidelity and bereavement, guilt and grief. But then she would be off on some ridiculous comedy moment, with the heroine behaving in a way that was not endearing, but just annoying: could she really be that stupid? And, I suppose it’s a convention that you can spot who she is going to end up with from his very first appearance, but it did take some of the tension out of the plot.
Also, the plot is based on two premises:
1) Our heroine Molly is widowed, and is very poor because she had to pay death dutiesNow, both these premises are faulty – she wouldn’t have to pay inheritance tax on her spouse’s estate, and she cannot inherit from the dead uncle-by-marriage if not specifically named (her children can, but she cannot).
2) This situation is going to be alleviated because a relation of her dead husband’s has died intestate, and Molly will inherit.
And so yet again I voice my dreary cri de coeur: did NOBODY reading this book at an early stage spot these very basic problems? This is a best-selling author, presumably a prized author. She is apparently married to a barrister. She is published by a serious major publishing house. She must have agents and editors and friends who read the manuscript. God knows, the plot isn’t trying to be realistic but still these are such basic problems… The geography didn’t seem to make much sense either – real-life experience says that it is not quite so easy and quick to whizz up to London from Herefordshire by train (and back again in a twinkle) as her characters seem to find it.
But I shouldn’t be so picky – I think Alliott has a lot of fans who will love this book, and I cannot deny its entertainment value.