With a title like “Life, Death and Vanilla Slices” by an author called Jenny Éclair, you could be forgiven for thinking this novel takes place in a kitchen or a catering business or bakery. But you’d be wrong.
Jenny Éclair is a British comic – big black-framed glasses – spikey, bottle blonde hair and a lethal sense of humour – and one of only two female comedians to have won the Edinburgh Festival’s prestigious Perrier Award. This is her third novel and while it’s been described as “very dark and very funny”, it most certainly is a book that holds your attention relentlessly.
There’s a sizable cast of characters, but the main ones are eldest daughter Anne, mum Jean, dad Jim, youngest daughter Jessica and Anne’s family – hubby Paul, sons Nat and Jools. Éclair has an easy talent for creating real characters; funny at times, insecure, exasperating, annoying , selfish, weak, phony– she has captured elements of everybody’s family members.
So, the story. Jean has a serious accident resulting in a coma. Anne leaves her upper middle class home in London to return to Blackpool, the scene of her childhood to dutifully sit by her mum’s bedside. It’s from Jean’s hospital room that the story unfolds.
A lesser writer could get bogged down with all the twists and turns. But her skill keeps it all neat, while maintaining a high level of intrigue. Just when you think you’ve worked out who’s where doing what, she sneaks in a quick twist. And you end up reading another chapter or two just to see what happens next.
This is a book you want on a long-haul flight. It’s engrossing. You’ll feel their pain, share a laugh, want to slap them. The sons are a real piece of work – and Jess, well – you decide. (I wanted to knock their collective heads together!)
It’s a book you’ll need to think about once you’ve finished it. Because, I suspect, it will only be once you’ve mentally rehashed the last 50 or so pages that you’ll feel at peace with what this talented writer has done – written an exceptional novel about realistic people who battled with painful situations and came out the other end all the better for it.
Available Now: Hachette RRP$29.99