27/01/2012

The Wife who Ran Away (by Tess Stimson)

I had never heard of Tess Stimson. However, browsing the books available for reviewing on The Bookbag site, this one caught my eye. I admit it, I do initially judge books by their covers. This one - which was nothing like the Amazon one showing here, but a gentle cover in pink and turqoise pastels - looked like my kind of read. The blurb at Amazon seemed to confirm it.

So when it arrived a week or so back, I started reading almost immediately. The story is about Kate, who is almost 40. I suppose she has something of a mid-life crisis... but if anyone is entitled to one, she surely is. For Kate's life is far from easy. She earns a lot more than her husband Ned, and works long hours... but her boss seems to be trying to supplant her with someone younger. She pays for their mortgage, and her mother's too, and school fees for their teenage children Guy and Agness.

Kate also runs the home pretty much single-handedly, with little support from Ned. Guy is being badly bullied at school, and is not very communicative. Agness is going through an angry hormonal stage, fighting for more freedom... and Kate's mother has a string of constant demands.

Then Ned forgets about their wedding anniversary. Kate hasn't recovered from a problem they had a few months earlier, and she doesn't appreciate him spending the evening at the pub, then dragging her off to bed where he demonstrates himself to be a complete boor. The last straw - actually in the first chapter - comes from a relatively small incident. We then see Kate taking a taxi to return to the office... and, instead, running away to the airport, to an old friend in Italy.

This novel is told in the present tense, which works well, with forays into the past to explain some of what is happening. It's also told from multiple viewpoints. It makes an interesting read: will Kate ever return to her demanding family? Why has she let them get away with it for so long? How will her family get along without her....?

Unfortunately, Guy's accounts are peppered with bad language, and Ned's, at the beginning, are even worse. He describes in crass and juvenile detail what he does, in about five minutes, to Kate in the bedroom. My only surprise, after reading that - or rather, skimming it, as it wasn't pleasant reading - was that she had any positive feelings for him at all.

The middle of the story reads well, with Kate gradually unwinding in the relaxed environment she finds herself in, while her family descend further into chaos. Guy is dealt with quite sensitively, I felt, and if Agness matures rather too suddenly for reality, it does provide the trigger for things to start changing, slowly, in the home.

However I couldn't warm to either Ned, or to Kate's mother. Their changes seem unrealistic, without any real motive. Then Kate suddenly falls into a clich├ęd and unlikely situation which struck me as slightly ridiculous...

On the whole, the writing of the book is very good - it's certainly a page-turner, which I could hardly put down towards the end. However, the conclusion seems rather too neat, with at least one strange inconsistency that really didn't work.

As light reading, excluding the 18-rated language, it's not a bad novel. But I'm not sure I'll read it again.

(You can also read my slightly longer review of 'The wife who ran away' at the Bookbag site).

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