[My mother] was often quite out of it, but she could function pretty well. If you met her on the street you’d think her charming, an immaculately turned-out redhead – though more Rula Lenska that Rita Hayworth – and you might think her mildly eccentric.
[The first day of school]
Jack went ahead of us through the school doors and into the changing area. [He] found the peg with his name next to it, removed his raincoat and hung it up, before slipping off his new Start-Rites and replacing them with slippers that each child was required to wear indoors.
My mother hung back. She was wearing her favourite seventies ladies’ trench, red stilettos, and had her hair piled up high on top of her head. I noticed a few sidelong glances from mothers in trainers.
commentary: Paula Daly does tremendous setups: in this one a couple are bickering in their car in the driveway, about to go to visit family. An annoying neighbour latches onto them. The wife, our narrator Jane, dashes back into the house to pick something up, then takes her time in the hope everything will have calmed down when she gets back. So far, so familiar, and most of us can identify with the situation. But actually – when she gets back there has been a weird and inexplicable attack on her husband, one he may not survive…
Apart from the mystery of what happened to Leon, what comes next is an all-too-convincing picture of illness in the family – Jane trying to juggle childcare and work and hospital visits, wishing her mother-in-law would act differently, annoyed with her own mother. The grim details of the dreadful head wound to her husband, and the aftermath, are not played down - there is an almost-documentary feel to it.
But there is also a crime plot and it absolutely keeps you turning the pages, partly because it is so difficult to imagine who would want to attack a harmless midlist crime writer…
Open Your Eyes is short, and tense, and I didn’t have much idea where the story was going, it was full of unexpected turns. (Though let’s just say, there isn’t a huge cast of characters.) I read the second half in one tremendous sitting, and enjoyed it hugely. I have to say that afterwards, when I thought about it, I had a LOT of questions about the plot, there seemed to be plenty of things that didn’t quite make sense or were flatout impossible, and background details of some of the characters were weirdly absent – I couldn’t get a mental picture of Erica and Charlie (what did he do?). The mother who promised so well was much under-used, and then, the sudden revelation that someone had underworld contacts…
And, I’m whispering this because it seems mean, but it wasn’t quite as good as Daly’s The Trophy Child (reviewed on the blog last year) – which was SO good, and SO funny, and a really unusual book.
But Daly certainly carried me along with this one, even through a slightly annoying ending.
This book is set in Liverpool, in areas I know really well: just about every street name and shop and building and place was familiar to me (Keith’s Wine Bar… ) The other books I’ve read by her were set in the Lake District so this was a surprise, and a nice one.
And Open Your Eyes is absolutely to be recommended for a tense, entertaining read.
Pictures are of Rula Lenska, and Start Rite school shoes.