All that Mullarkey (by Sue Moorcroft)

I first came across Sue Moorcroft some years ago when I was sent her novel ‘Uphill All the Way’ by The Bookbag, and enjoyed it very much. So I was pleased when I discovered some of her other work, mostly out of print but available very cheaply for the Kindle. I follow her blog and respect her advice - unfortunately, I haven’t, so far, enjoyed any of her other novels as much as the first.

‘All that Mullarkey’ starts with a dramatic scene. Cleo, a thirty-something businesswoman, sets out for a school reunion despite the disapproval of her husband Gav. Indeed, he’s been in a bad mood lately, and this culminates in his insistence that if she goes out, their marriage is over.

It’s an unusual and quite powerful start to the story; unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. Cleo does feel a bit worried and turns back, but when she finds that Gav has not just gone out, he’s left a cruel message on the wall, she decides to go out and get drunk. And then she does something so bizarre and stupid that I totally lost sympathy with her.

There are lots of issues bubbling under the scenes in this book - of the dangers of drinking too heavily; of the importance of truth in relationships; of single parenthood and the amazing depth of parental love; of abusive campaigns against individuals, and more. We get a little insight into Cleo’s role at work, visiting companies that need help, which was very interesting. Indeed, there was a lot of potential in this novel, and there’s some good writing too.

However, it seems to have been designed to appeal primarily to a young and rather shallow audience. There’s also a great deal of clubbing, far too much uncommitted leaping into bed, and even some bad language that doesn’t feel appropriate in context. It’s not exactly light chick-lit; there’s more depth to it than that. But it’s equally not the more moving older women’s fiction of the author’s first novel.

I found the characterisation rather mixed. The publishers try to make a point of using a male point of view as well as a female one in their novels, which is a great idea. The problem with that in this book is that there are two important male characters in this book: the confused, unhappy Gav, who is evidently going through a bad patch; and the wild, promiscuous Justin, who takes advantage of Cleo, totally fails to understand her,  then tries to blackmail her emotionally. Both change character rather dramatically as the novel progresses, and while Justin does start to feel much nice and I grew in sympathy for him, it didn’t quite feel in character with the unpleasant person he is when Cleo first gets to know him.

Cleo herself is such a mixed character that I never felt as if I got to know her properly. We see a lot of the novel from her perspective; sometimes she’s caring, maternal and wise, although rather insecure. She’s evidently very good at her job, and fond of her supposedly wilder sister. Cleo is, mostly, an excellent mother. But at times she behaves in ways that make her appear to be a rebellious, thoughtless teenager with nobody who cares about her at all - so it was difficult to relate to her.

There’s a sort of twist in the plot towards the end which I could see coming for some time, but it didn’t seem very realistic. I suppose it was there to ensure that the readers were in sympathy with the right people. The ending was predictable, but that’s not a problem - I like to know that endings of novels are going to be encouraging, and by the second half of the book it was evident that the alternative possible ending was not going to happen.

I sound negative, but it’s not a bad book. I kept reading, partly because on the whole the writing is good, and partly just to check that the expected ending was going to happen... but it took me over a week. It wasn’t a book that I couldn’t put down.

I suppose this novel would make undemanding holiday reading. The paperback edition is still in print on both sides of the Atlantic, and the links given point to them; however this is also available inexpensively for the Kindle; I was able to download mine free on special offer.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 7th September 2012

No comments: