Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here http://www.authortranslatorolga.com
Olga has been reading The Not So Perfect Plan To Save Friendship House by Lilly Bartlett
Sometimes it seems as if all the books and movies on offer are centred on young protagonists, and I’m not only talking about Young Adult books. However, recently there has been a move towards including older protagonists and subjects. I enjoyed the two Dutch books about Hendrik Groen, a man in his eighties living in a nursing home, and have watched a few movies, usually choral, about older protagonists (like The Exotic Marigold Hotel). The setting of this novel, in a residential home, and the promise of a comedy made it sound like the perfect choice for me.
The first-person narrator of the story is Phoebe, a chef who had a very successful career in a bistro before disaster struck. She loves her job at the residential home (The Jane Austen Home for Ladies, and, as we discover, the name is meaningful in several ways), but has always felt frustrated because her parents (and her mother, in particular) do not seem to value her job and are dismissive of her career. To make matters worse, her mother (a larger-than-life character) dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, but her internalised voice keeps gnawing on her confidence. Her best friend, June, is the manager of the home, and she fancies Nick, who is the official physiotherapist but also takes on any odd jobs going on (art therapy, gardening, handyman…). I know some readers don’t like first-person narratives, although Phoebe is unassuming, witty and an excellent friend. (On the minus side, her lack of self-confidence can make her sound paranoid and bitchy, and she keeps mulling over things, unable to decide what to do, trying hard to feel comfortable in her own skin and accept the credit for her achievements). We learn some surprising things about her family life together and by the end of the book, although I don’t have much in common with her character, I felt connected to her and appreciated her role as a narrator. Her friendship with June is convincing and their relationship is one of the strongest points of the book.
I also loved the residents of the home, and in many ways (not only due to my age, I hope), I felt closer to them than to the protagonist. We get to know some of them more than others (Maggie is fabulous and I loved Dot, Laney, Sophie, and yes, even Terence). They all feel real, with their foibles and their endearing traits, and make the book memorable. We follow the intrigues that have to do with the home and the changes that take place there (from a women’s only place to a mixed one) and learn about its inhabitants, their secrets, and their past lives. We are both observers and participants in much of the action, and we feel invested in their fates. We learn the importance of accepting people for who they are and moving beyond appearances and prejudices.
There are several romances with happy, or at least hopeful, endings (for the young and the older generations), broken hearts and disappointments, secrets and lies, and there is also the connection (pointed out through references to the book club and their discussions) to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I would not call the novel a variation on Pride and Prejudice but if we think of Austen’s text as we read it we can discover nuances that might be easily missed otherwise.
Although there are many amusing lines in the novel (and some pretty touching ones as well. As we know, humour can be an excellent defence mechanism against hurt), I thought I’d share a few (remember that I got an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel):
We’ve never let something as trifling as the spectre of death stand in the way of a good snipe.
Meet Phoebe, who’s 28, and Laney, Dot and Maggie, who are 68, 78, and none of your business. Together they’ll prove that age doesn’t matter when it comes to friendship, belonging and an unquenchable zest for life.
When Framlingham’s famously all-female retirement home goes co-ed, a war between the sexes is declared.
Stuck in the middle, chef Phoebe Stockton is desperate to help her friends plot to keep the community that means so much to them. It’s become her life raft, too. She finds comfort in her beloved career that might finally make her parents proud. But Phoebe’s darling Nick is lining up on the other side of the battle, and their romance is suffering collateral damage.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. If the home’s owner can’t improve business by moving the men in, he’ll have to close down Friendship House.
The women aren’t about to let that happen.
Lilly Bartlett’s cosy romcoms are full of warmth, quirky characters and guaranteed happily-ever-afters.
Lilly is the pen-name of Sunday Times and USA Today best-selling author, Michele Gorman, who writes best friend-girl power comedies under her own name.