Thursday, 27 March 2014

'A Place to Call Home' by Carole Matthews

A PLACE TO CALL HOME by Carole Matthews

Encapsulate the book in one sentence?
Sri Lankan woman escapes with her mute daughter from Milton Keynes and an abusive marriage and flees to Hampstead, where she seeks refuge with a motley household of reclusive pop stars,  jocular lap dancers and grumpy gardeners.

When did I buy it? Where and why did I buy it?
I received an advanced e-copy from the publisher.

What’s your verdict?
I love Carole’s books. Twice a year she hits us – with a festive-themed novel at the end of the year and, each spring, a bright, sunny romance. I’ve been enjoying her books for a few years now – they’re chatty, convivial, and completely engrossing. You really care about what happens to her characters.

Did you finish it? Did it work for you?
It’s the kind of book you keep with you for a few days, not wanting to finish it too fast. Her books are like sitting down comfily and hearing long, involved, sometimes outrageous gossip from a friend you haven’t seen for about six months.

What genre would you say it is?
This is romance, yes – but there are touches of real peril here, with the pursuit and crime sub-plot. Her books are often much funnier than straightforward romantic novels.

What surprises did it hold?
The story of the husband Ayesha is running away from is quite shocking, I think. At first we think it’s a case of nasty, banal domestic abuse, but his character is much wilder and more dangerous than that. The chapter in the jewellery shop towards the end is quite startling.

With Carole Matthews’ novels you always know that you are going to like the main character, who generally narrates about three quarters of the novel in first person. The surprises are to do with how they are going to find a way to be happy, against sometimes impossible odds. The other twenty five per cent of the novel is generally seen through a third person view-point – often a male character’s – and here the surprises are often to be found, when the novel affords us a glance back at our heroine in the round, in a different context. Sometimes, cleverly, these third person chapters fling us unexpectedly into a different genre altogether.

What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
Stand-out character here is the endearingly shameless Crystal, with whom Ayesha becomes best pals, almost immediately upon seeking shelter in Hayden’s house. Crystal wears ill-advised outfits and is unrepentant about some of the dodgy things she’s had to do to scrape by. She takes Ayesha to the lap-dancing club where she works and the great thing in this book is that Ayesha is never judgmental, and neither is the authorial voice. The most touching episode in the whole book concerns Crystal and the child she lost, and the way she tells Ayesha this story.

The most memorable scene of all for me, is the foiled abduction attempt in the back garden, and the way in which the women fight off the men in balaclavas…

Have you read anything else by this author? Or anything this book reminds you of?
I’ve read perhaps half of Carole’s entire oeuvre, and I try to catch up on the backlist between the six-monthly novels. She has a distinctive world that I enjoy revisiting – an inclusive one in which people are muddling along, hoping for the best and making the best of themselves.

What will you do with this copy now?
It’s an ebook, so it’ll stay on my ipad – which means that it’s in my bag forever now. I’ll send my mam a paperback copy, since I’ve got her into Carole’s books lately too.

Is it available today?
It’s published in paperback on April the 10th

Give me a good quote:
“’To us,’ Crystal says. ‘We are fabulous and fearless.’
         ‘I was very afraid,’ I admit.
         ‘We all were. It doesn’t bear thinking about.’ Then she laughs. ‘But where on earth did you find that language, lady?’ “Knee him in the bollocks”?’”

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