A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs (by Victoria Clayton)

Although I have read and very much enjoyed most of Victoria Clayton’s novels in the past couple of years, I hadn’t realised at first that ‘A Girl’s Guide to Kissing Frogs’ was another novel. Her books are no longer in print, but I was able to find this reasonably inexpensively in the Amazon Marketplace, although it’s stayed on my to-be- read shelf for some time. I picked it up a few days, ago, thinking it would last me a while - it’s almost 600 pages - but once I’d got into the story, I could barely put it down.

Marigold is the main protagonist, and the story is told from her perspective, in the first person. She’s a ballet dancer - the principal dancer in a small company. She’s very talented, and also ambitious; so much so that she’s having a loveless affair with the director of the company. This is shown rather casually in the first few pages, and feels quite sordid; had I not been sure the book would improve, I might have given up at that point.

However we also learn in the first paragraph that Marigold has broken her foot, almost leading to the end of her career. We’re told this at the start, and then watch her, after falling awkwardly, dancing a demanding role in front of an important audience, in increasing agony as she does. The picture is clearly painted of someone whose entire life is ballet - she will suffer anything for her art. But then she faints, and ends up in hospital.

Most of the book then takes place in her home town of Northumberland. Her parents have a difficult marriage; her father is a doctor, but also a womaniser, and her mother, whom Marigold adores, gets very depressed and sometimes drinks too much. We also meet Evelyn, an upper-crust friend who has always been fond of Marigold; her two adult children, Rafe and Isabel, are also at home. Marigold always had something of a crush on Rafe, although he was older and mostly ignored her. But now she’s an adult, and quite attractive, and he seems to be taking notice of her…

It’s a complex plot, with quite a large cast. However Victoria Clayton is talented at creating memorable characters. Some of them - such as Marigold’s mother - are rather caricatured but it doesn’t matter; the most significant members of the cast are mostly believable, and, on the whole, likeable. Even Marigold, driven to immoral extremes and deceit by ambition and talent, is a nice person on the inside. Rafe is almost too nice.

As with other books by this author, a main character from a previous book makes a cameo appearance in this one. In this case, it’s Bobbie, who starred in Moonshine. It was nice to see her, settled and happy, but it would be fine to read this book without having read any of the author’s others.

There are plenty of surprises in the book, some of which I could see coming, while others were totally unexpected. There are several storylines too; subplots involve a teenage mother, a Traveller craftsman, insights into the world of ballet, class snobbery, and several other themes, some of them a tad shocking although so well written that they worked remarkably well.

I appreciated several literary, musical and ballet references in this book, and found some parts of it quite moving. There’s some humour too, and I almost laughed aloud at the final line in the book, which occurs after a somewhat abrupt, somewhat predictable and yet altogether satisfactory conclusion.

Clayton’s books are touted as social comedy, but there are sufficient serious issues covered or touched upon in this novel that I would rate it much more highly than that. Definitely recommended, if you like light women’s fiction with some depth.

'A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs' is no longer in print, but is available inexpensively in Kindle form.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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