Stage by Stage by Jan Jones
|Stage by Stage by Jan Jones|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Fairhead|
|Summary: Beth is a teacher, Owen an actor. The style is akin to chick-lit, the romance fairly predictable - yet the characters come alive, the story sparkles, and there's a very realistic background of school and the stage.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 318||Date: July 2005|
Beth, in her mid-forties with two teenagers, is shocked when her husband Alan walks out on her after a row. Not, as he has before, to play a game of golf and then return to a night in the guest room. This time, he packs his things and does not return. Beth is uncertain what her future holds - not least because Alan is a high-flying businessman and she is a part-time English teacher. She has no idea, at first, how she will support the family without his salary. So, rather reluctantly, she applies for a full-time teaching post and takes in bed-and-breakfast guests.
Beth's daughter Natalie is nearly 16; she and her brother Robin are heavily involved in the theatre, working as extras in repertory when the 'Footlights' company is nearby. Alan is unimpressed by this: he would prefer Natalie to take a job in the office in her holidays, and he thinks Robin should like football rather than dancing. Indeed, as the book progresses it's clear that Alan disapproves of almost everything in his family.
To tie these threads together, one of Beth's early sets of bed-and-breakfasters are three people from the Footlights company. Owen is in his late thirties, a brilliant actor who - like so many in his profession - drinks, swears too much, and is afraid of commitment. Seb is in his early 20s, a polite, very good-looking, up-and-coming star. Cate is the Assistant Stage Manager, and constantly stressed...
There are, in addition, a host of minor characters including some delightful caricatures in Beth's Year 7 class, and some rather nasty pieces of work in the theatre company who are jealous of Seb's talent and good looks. I couldn't keep track of them all in my mind, but it didn't matter too much; they played their parts as extras do on stage, while the main characters were realistic and distinctive.
I didn't think I would particularly enjoy this book. The cover looks like a crime fiction novel: black and scarlet, with a prominent white mask. Although I quickly realised that it wasn't that genre, it is rather unashamedly 'chick-lit', and I'm not generally very keen on that style of book. The plot moves rapidly with multiple viewpoints and casual relationships (though, thankfully, no lengthy details of bedroom antics). There's some humour, particularly in the unlikely characters in Beth's class, but rather than making me cringe, I found myself smiling several times. There's wisdom, too, and kindness, and loyalty. And the settings seem very believable. I have relatives who have worked for short periods in the theatre, and I could certainly recognise some of the situations and stresses described. These didn't feel 'researched' at all - sometimes I didn't quite grasp all that was happening, but I like a book that takes me right into the places and situations of the characters without pausing for careful explanations all the time.
What surprised me most was how strongly I empathised with Beth. I'm around the same age, and also have two children, but I'm not much like her in personality. Yet I found myself rooting for her early in the book, anxious when she was worrying, feeling good when she was happy. Jan Jones evidently has a gift for characterisation, at least for her main characters. Some of the minor ones were a little shadowy, but the only one I felt to be rather flat was Robin, who had interesting potential but never really developed as a person.
The main appeal of Transita's published novels is to women over forty, but I think younger people would enjoy this book too; it was a good move to have strong characters who were much younger as well as Beth. I'm still not entirely sure why I liked it so much, but these people rather got under my skin. I was quite disappointed when I remembered there was no more of it to read this evening! I already look forward to re-reading it in a few years.
My thanks to the author for sending the book.
If you like novels about women in their forties, Transita have also published Uphill all the Way and The Scent of Water. If you like the chick-lit style with well-written plots and more depth than normal, The Nanny is similar in style.
You can read more book reviews or buy Stage by Stage by Jan Jones at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Stage by Stage by Jan Jones at Amazon.com.
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