Eating Blackbirds by Lorraine Jenkin

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Eating Blackbirds by Lorraine Jenkin

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: An easy and amusing read which chronicles the path of true love for an amusingly motley collection of heroes and heroines. I thoroughly enjoyed my few hours in the small Welsh town of Cysgod y Ffynon.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press
ISBN: 978-1906784065

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'Delightful', 'unsophisticated' and 'funny' tags jump to mind for Eating Blackbirds, one of several books published this year, aimed at the women's mainstream market from Welsh publishers Honno. I read it in a couple of sittings, not wanting to put it down.

I think Eating Blackbirds will appeal because it's grounded rather than aspirational, yet the mundane setting is belied by a bizarre plot right out on the edge of believability. The result is funny and feel-good rather than sophisticated. That's not a criticism. Fun and feel-good are delicate qualities, easily trampled underfoot in the attempt to be all things to all readers (believe me, I've read a lot of fiction for The Bookbag this year!)

Although the novel features a couple of chicks, a motley collection of characters set it outside the chicklit genre. Perhaps with a hen, a hag, a lad, a tosser and an old codger all playing starring roles we need another label … who's for comrom?

Godfrey, the crabby old codger, is positively my favourite character, his miserly foibles tickling me from the start. Lorraine Jenkin spins a romance from the most unpromising raw material to produce an unlikely, rakish character who makes it into the improbable bed of his dreams. Eat your heart out James Bond!

On the face of it, these are a most unlikely set of romantic heroes and heroines. But then, hardly anyone in this typically Welsh community has a sexy job except the affluent city lawyer who deserves his eventual come-uppance. Instead, there is a tele-sales girl, Slides and Dogshit man and Council Tax official, residents of a squat, a policeman's wife and so on. A knowing Welsh voice has been there and done so many of the sounds and smells of Cysgod y Ffynon; Lorraine Jenkin's humorous asides on all those mundane lives and foibles sometimes read more like the Canterbury Tales.

In a gloriously off-the-wall plot, each character starts the story with a problem or two. Godfrey is an habitual miser who aspires to a better social life in retirement. Georgia can't stand the squat once her baby arrives. Mansel can never keep a girl-friend once he opens his mouth. Audrey discovers her husband is a chronic adulterer. Sandra needs to throw out her bullying boyfriend. And so on, since the story is narrated from multiple viewpoints.

Yes, the technique works just fine in this novel and I revelled in the assured writing. Early on it's obvious that the disparate strands of the story will click together, and they do – with a very satisfying clunk. The protagonists adapt and move in new directions to sort out their problems. With help from the other characters, everyone pairs up and grows up. The only losers are those who aren't prepared to change their vices, and they become the figures of fun in the last few chapters.

I hope Lorraine Jenkins cracks the market with this one.

Here at The Bookbag we've also enjoyed other recent Honno titles: Sweets from Morocco by Jo Verity, Headhunters by Claire Peate, and Bethan Darwin's Back Home. And on a historical (but still Welsh) note, our reviewer described Flint by Margaret Redfern, set in the time of Edward I, as 'utterly unforgettable'.

Many thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

Booklists.jpg Eating Blackbirds by Lorraine Jenkin is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.

Bookinterviews.jpg Lorraine Jenkin was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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