A Mother's Guide to Cheating by Kate Long
|A Mother's Guide to Cheating by Kate Long|
|Genre: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Kerry King|
|Summary: The young Carol marries the aptly name Phil (for it seems Phil is short for Philanderer) and soon becomes mother to Jaz. She suffers her husband's infidelities in stoic silence and when Jaz grows up, she marries Ian who, at first glance, is the polar opposite of Phil, with the emphasis on at first glance. The moment Jaz discovers Ian is cheating on her, she gives Ian his marching orders, changes the locks and denies him access to their toddler son, Matty. Independent, fiery and headstrong, Jaz is the polar opposite of her mother, Carol. But Carol's strengths lie elsewhere. Kate Long delves into the instantly recognisable, mixed-up family with tender, loving care and a dash of unexpected romance in this, her fifth novel.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: February 2010|
|Publisher: Simon & Schuster|
When Jaz discovers a random text message on her husband Ian's phone, it does not take a genius to work out the meaning of a message as personal as what did you dream last night?, followed by kisses and a strange woman's name. Nor does it take a genius to figure out the precise nature of what Ian has been up to with the sender. A subsequent confession and proclamation from Ian that it meant nothing; she is nothing does not diminish Jaz's rage and he is dispatched, forthwith, from the family home. As is the norm in these kind of situations, you turn to the people you most trust to help you through and reinforcements in the shape of Jaz's mother, Carol, swiftly arrive.
Though outwardly taciturn – for Jaz is emoting at an Olympic standard - Carol is distraught. Not just because since the very first time she met Ian, every fibre of her being said he was a nice guy - someone to be trusted. A man in whose hands her daughter's heart would be safe. No, not just because Ian had proved her wrong in the worst possible way but mostly because history seemed to be repeating itself. Jaz's father, Phil had betrayed Carol with monotonous, humiliating, regularity for the entire duration of their marriage and whilst Carol swore to protect her daughter from the kind of man she herself had married, it would appear that Jaz had gone and married him anyway.
So. What to do? How could she, in all conscience, tell Jaz that she should stay with Ian for the sake of their son (and her grandson), Matty, after such a monumental betrayal? But how could she agree with Jaz's adamant stance that Ian's goose was well and truly cooked and that he had blown any chance of happiness with her, forever? How would poor Matty feel growing up in a broken home, when he so patently adored his father? Having dispatched Jaz to bed to at least try and get some sleep, Carol picks up the ringing phone and is confronted, immediately with a choice to do the right thing or the best thing and she is surprised and saddened that she does not quite know which road to take. At the end of the phone is Ian's father, David and the thing that David wants more than anything in the world is to reunite his, admittedly idiot, son with Carol's daughter. The sight of a sleeping Matty is decision enough for Carol but when Jaz latterly discovers that her mother has joined forces with her father-in-law, David in a joint bid to reunite the warring pair, Jaz's abject fury bounces off the stratosphere and she disappears, taking Matty with her.
In the initial stages, the telling of the story completely captured me, heart and soul. Narrated by Carol, Kate Long has used the utterly charming and quite unique method of describing a family photo from Carol's many albums, at the commencement of each chapter. It was a beautiful background builder and warmed me to the story straight away. It concisely cut away the need for gads and gads of back-filler and succinctly gave you a greater overall picture of how things really were, without the benefit of Carol's rose-coloured spectacles or the total lack of such a device from Jaz's perspective. A neutral perspective, if you like.
I began to falter a little way into the story. At a glance and from the jacket blurb, I was expecting a bigger part of the story to delve into Carol's marriage to Jaz's father, Phil and his relentless 'polyamory'. Whilst I learned why Carol stayed, I didn't learn why Jaz repeated her mother's mistake and neither did I understand why Carol was insistent that Jaz take Ian back, in spite of how she personally suffered (and subsequently how her daughter suffered as a result of her parents' unhappy marriage) at the hands of someone who could not keep theirs to themselves. I did not get it and yet the entire tale seems to hinge around this precise point.
I faltered entirely around two thirds of the way through when I realised that, despite desperately wanting to like Jaz, I did not and therefore could not find any way to empathise with her. With a subject matter as tricky and well-travelled as this, empathy with the characters is surely key? I am wary of being unkind about this book, because whilst marital infidelity can be an overworked area, the fact that Long has taken the trouble to find an alternative way to tell the story, using the whole family and their experiences of the same, it would be an injustice. Long has clearly thought very carefully and sensitively about how she should approach the subject, without being guilty of trotting out the same old same old and she demonstrates this in her unique approach
The final nail in the coffin (for me – I can see that this book is going to linger in the top ten bestseller list for weeks and weeks and weeks and I am not stupid enough to think that my opinion will mean much to the masses who bought the previous four of Kate Long's novels) was that The Bad Mother's Handbook was just so good, that I could not help making constant comparisons. Now, for the most part, that was unfair of me, but I couldn't help it. What I do want to underline in the positive is that A Mother's Guide to Cheating is superbly and uniquely (there's that word again) written and Long certainly knows how to get under your skin with a kitchen sink drama. Thankfully, Carol is not your run-of-the-mill chick-lit heroine either and this gives A Mother's Guide to Cheating a wider appeal.
For all of that, I think my feelings about this book are limited to the category of one-off as I am in no way deterred from reading whatever Kate Long chooses to write next. If The Bad Mother's Handbook is anything to go by, she and I have far too much in common for that!
In terms of further reading, I will recommend carefully. I have already bored you with my sentiments on the subject matter, but for another refreshingly simple and interesting point of view, you might like to try Got You Back by Jane Fallon. In direct contrast, as it delivers both a complex and bitingly clever insight into the marital partnership, you really must put The Wife by Meg Wolitzer on your to read list. In my humble view, Wolitzer is almost without comparison amongst her peers and this book is one of her finest. If you are not, however, up for a serious and intense read and fancy a slightly more light-hearted romp around the chick-list aisle Other People's Husbands by Judy Astley is a very pleasing, funny, and clever read and Judy knows only too well that we at Bookbag think she is wonderful.
Lastly, we at Bookbag would like to extend our thanks to the kind ladies and gentlemen at Simon and Schuster for sending this copy to us for review.
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Kate Long (the author) said:
Thanks for your lovely and thorough review of AMTC. I admired the summary, especially of the climax of the novel here: The sight of a sleeping Matty is decision enough for Carol but when Jaz latterly discovers that her mother has joined forces with her father-in-law, David in a joint bid to reunite the warring pair, Jaz's abject fury bounces off the stratosphere and she disappears, taking Matty with her. You have a neat way with words.
However, I did want to address this point: neither did I understand why Carol was insistent that Jaz take Ian back, in spite of how she personally suffered (and subsequently how her daughter suffered as a result of her parents' unhappy marriage) at the hands of someone who could not keep theirs to themselves. I did not get it and yet the entire tale seems to hinge around this precise point.
There are three reasons Carol wants Jaz to stay with Ian. In the first stage she’s in simple denial: she just wants things back the way they were, when Jaz was “the happiest she’d ever been”. She can’t bear to see her daughter suffering so: “please, please think about a reconciliation with Ian. You’re so down, you’re going to make yourself ill.” Because of course she’s terrified Jaz is going to sink into clinical depression again.
The second reason you identify yourself in the first quotation: Carol can’t bear to imagine Matty’s life disrupted so brutally. She desperately wants him to grow up with his dad as part of the household (and Ian is a great dad). Her love for Matty is overwhelming, and she sees everything in relation to his well-being. “’The person who’s most important here,’ I said, ‘is Matty. He’s at the centre of all this, he’s the one caught up in the middle. Matty changes everything. If it weren’t for Matty—‘
But the third and most compelling reason is that she feels “shyly spoken, decent, awkward, straightforward” Ian is completely different from cocky Phil, and that therefore his motivation for infidelity wasn’t anything like the same – that the incident was truly a one-off. Her initial interview with Ian goes a long way to confirming what her instinct is telling her. Ian says: “I love Jaz, and Matty; they’re the only things I care about. Not that woman, she was nothing. What happened was a slip. It absolutely didn’t mean anything. It’ll never happen again.”
Then she hears the same again from his father, David:
“You do believe it was a one-off?”
“God, yes. My son’s not capable of any kind of sustained duplicity...[The girl’s] not important. Honestly. This slip was about a moment rather than an individual. We won’t hear from her again.”
Carol tests them both but they stick to the same earnest line. So essentially Ian is redeemable, and Carol understand this: “I let myself imagine, for a moment, what might have happened if someone had taken Phil aside all those years ago and told him. Whether Phil could have been straightened out...I had a chance to make things good.”
Yes, Jaz is vile, isn’t she? But she’s meant to be. She’ll get her come-uppance when Matty’s older, rest assured!