THIS is much more a tale of middle class manners and morals and mores than it is of cousins. It tells the intertwining stories of two women in pursuit of their own sort of happiness, attempting to adjust their likes and desires to their lifestyles. Or vice versa. It is light, perceptive, and funny. It is also a surprisingly satisfactory read.
The source of surprise is that one suspects at the outset that this will be an entertaining work of little substance. That sounds cruel, but is a reflection of the reality of the publishing world. There are so many other writers out there now attempting to pull off once again the trick that Joanna Trollope so successfully managed; this looked like the latest.
But, for me, there was a difference. I know the author, who was a neighbour in London before she and her family moved to Scotland a few years ago. Yet my personal interest in her perceptions of the difference between the life she found in Scotland and the one she left behind ? a distinction which is a very central feature of the book ? was soon forgotten. And that's because she tells a good story. It is interesting and well researched and, yes, even surprising.
She has progressed hugely since her first novel and, in particular, uses metaphor extremely well. She is also a skilful practitioner in the use of zeugma, a little-known grammatical trick of which all pedants (among whom I am numbered) tend to be particularly fond. It means using one verb for two differing nouns, as in "She left in a taxi and high dudgeon". Antonia Swinson does it a lot and to great effect.
The story is about two different women, about their relationships with their families, about their search for their own kinds of happiness. One of them is beautiful and clever and dreamy, unfulfilled and a bit sad; the other has succeeded beyond her or anybody else's dreams as a TV cook. What happens to them is the main body of the story. There is much social satire, a considerable amount of sardonic observation of life both in West London and East Lothian ? which should make inhabitants of both laugh at themselves as well as at each other. And that alone would be a considerable achievement.
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