When Bookworm on the Net was a quarterly column in The Bookseller, each time I used to give links to around 25 publishing world websites and pick out one as Bookworm's Choice. In February 2003, the Choice section read –
"When the first novel for adults by children's author Adèle Geras
Facing the Light (Orion, £12.99, 0752851543), is published in late March, readers will enjoy visiting her recently launched site. Ms Geras has provided interesting content, and site designer Wendy Wootton of Artemis Website Design
has done another good job with the design. Artemis now has a waiting list of authors who want fast, easily navigable sites."Adèle Geras
has written more than 80 books for children. Her fourth novel for adult readers, A Hidden Life, comes out on August 8th. Orion have sent me a copy but, as I shall be on holiday next month, I'm writing about it today.
I have not met this author but we have exchanged emails from time to time and she comes across as a delightful person. Which makes me feel uncomfortable about criticising the novel. However any publicity is said to be better than none, and my comments about A Hidden Life tie in with what I wrote about John Sutherland's book last week i.e. the possibility that authors are being encouraged to use certain themes which are known to bestsell.
Here's an extract from a long Q&A
between Mark Thwaite and Adèle.
"MT: Do you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Do you write specifically for them?
AG: No, not at all. Not even when I’m writing for young children. I write entirely for myself. I have to fall in love with the hero, cry when it’s sad, laugh when it’s funny, be spooked when it’s scary and then there’s a chance that you might be too….or someone might be. Once you start considering the readers, you’ve had it, I reckon. But I do try to ensure that as many people as possible might like my novels by deliberately including protagonists of all ages in my adult novels….see the ‘old ladies’ referred to in question 1. These ladies have daughters and granddaughters and I try to appeal to several generations in my books."
The main character in A Hidden Life is Lou, full name Louise Barrington. We meet Lou on page 3 when she is about to attend the reading of the will of her disagreeable grandmother who, we have already learned, intended it to upset her heirs and successors.
Although Lou is short of cash when the novel opens, this is a prosperous upper middle class milieu and the late Mrs Constance Barrington has left a large house and a substantial estate. But to Lou she has left only the copyrights of her grandfather's books which were never bestsellers and now are long forgotten.
So far so good. But then the reader learns that while Lou was starting her second year at York University she met a man called Ray, not an undergraduate. He looked "like a male model for a particularly butch brand of aftershave."
On their third date, she went to bed with him, and when Ray suggested she should drop her course and live with him in London, she didn't hesitate. They had been together for a month when he behaved in a way – including hurting her physically – which would have made any sensible girl ditch him on the spot. But Lou stayed until, when she was six months pregnant, he threw her out.
It stretches my credulity, but I can just about swallow the idea of a girl opting out of uni if she thinks she has met Mr Right. However when his brutality proves he's a thug, and she not only tolerates that but, without any sign that he wants to marry her, starts a baby, my sympathy evaporates.
The novel runs to 343 pages and we have to wait until p 264 - by which time Lou has had another abortive relationship - for Mr Right to appear.
The only thread in this novel I enjoyed was that of Lou's grandfather's life. He had spent part of his childhood in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and written about it in his unsuccessful book Blind Moon from which there are extracts.
It may be that the various other threads involving unsatisfactory marriages and a love affair between two women will appeal to other readers. But the novel was a disappointment to me.
However, of Mrs Geras's last novel, Made In Heaven, an Australian reader posted the following at Amazon UK.
"I've enjoyed all Adele Geras' adult novels(the other two are Facing the Light and Hester's Story) but this is my top favourite. It's a story that enthrals from the very first chapter, when we're led into the lives of the (about to be combined) Gratrix and Whittaker/Ashton families. They're about to be combined because of the impending wedding of Zannah Ford (nee gratrix) and Adrian Whittaker--but actually there's a lot more that links them than that. There's a secret which is about to be revealed and which ticks away like an unexploded bomb under the increasingly elaborate and frenzied preparations for the 'big wedding.' And there are unresolved things from the past which loom larger and larger even in the unclouded horizon that is Zannah's dream for her big day..Will there be a catastrophe? is there any hope to be salvaged? will it all end happily?
There are many pleasures in this wonderfully warm and entertaining novel--the subtle, deep exploration of character, a story superlatively well told, and the rich, fun details of planning that big wedding. Minor as well as major characters are really well depicted; you get a real sense of family and how weddings brings often very disparate people together--not necessarily in mutual understanding.
It's a totally involving, gripping, and vivid read and is very highly recommended."
So, despite my own reservations, it wouldn't surprise me to see A Hidden Life climbing the bestseller charts next month.