The Empty Nesters by Nina Bell
|The Empty Nesters by Nina Bell|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris|
|Summary: The kids have flown the nest, so where does that leave the parents whose lives have revolved around them for 18 plus years? The rate of this book, I wasn't too bothered about finding out.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 416||Date: September 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
With their children all off to university (most from the same school year, plus an erroneous one who took a handy-for-the-sake-of-the-story gap year), it's all change for the parents in this book – for Clover and George, and Laura and Tim, and Alice. Though some of the fathers are present, as you'd expect this is a tale told mainly from the eyes of the mothers. Clover and Laura have been friends forever, while Clover and Alice's relationship is more recent. As for Laura and Alice, well they really don't get on, making life a little tricky at times for Clover, stuck somewhere in the middle.
The book starts with the children's graduation from high school and their last summer at home, building up to results day. It should be, if not frantic then at least a busy, bustling time, but the story is extremely slow to get going and this really put me off. Though the two page prologue is mysterious, when the time moves back to a year before, it takes ages for the story to get going. There is a lot of detail but it reads as extremely self-indulgent and the sort of thing you'd only be remotely interested in if you knew the people involved which, this early on, you just don't. I also thought there was excessive jumping back and forth, a rather crude attempt to fill the reader in on the characters' backgrounds with this information shoehorned in quite abruptly in places.
I didn't click with the style because it thought it was needlessly wordy and dramatic in places that could have been punchier and less over the top. The narrative did little to add to the story, or endear the characters to me, and just seemed to waffle on:
Laura and Tim lived in an immaculate eighteenth-century yellow brick farmhouse on the slope of an idyllic valley. Their view consisted of fields, a half-timbered black and white medieval cottage, two barns, a herd of rare-breed cattle and a wood. Inside, their house was tastefully painted in shades of blue, terracotta and off-white with a Shaker kitchen and smart cream sofas . Two miles away in the raggle-taggle village of Pilgrim's Worthy, Clover and George lived at Fox Hollow, an extended Victorian cottage with a front door painted the grey-green of lichen.
This sort of description really didn't help move the story on, and had quite the opposite effect on me, bringing everything to a halt in my mind. Fine if you're reading a profile in Country Living, less so in a story that is supposed to be building momentum. I was also far from sure what the travel blogs were supposed to add.
But what of the story as it develops? It does speed up, certainly. It's still not wildly fast paced, and there can be unpredictable jumps of weeks or months at a time – an example being in December when a chapter skips over 2 weeks with no mention of Christmas despite, from what I gathered about these families, that being an important time of year (at any time, but especially the year the kids are back from their first term of uni). What I thought really let the story down, however, was the characters who ranged from insipid to neurotic, with no nice normal people to balance it out. The pettiness between Alice and Laura seemed extremely adolescent and not in keeping with their personas of busy, successful business woman and comfortably kept housewife. But it wasn't just this interaction: I didn't warm to any of the women and found none of them role model material. If this is what life brings for empty nesters in their late 40s, remind me never to have children to start with. Equally, I think if I'd given this book to my mother when I left home 11 years ago, she would have had it in the charity shop bag after 2 chapters, denouncing it as nonsense. With teenage children of her own, perhaps the author needed to write this as a sort of therapy following the departure of her own brood, but I can't help but be glad my mother was a bit more sensible about these matters and not the clingy mess some of the characters in the book appear to be.
Sometimes an ensemble cast can work well, but I truly believe there are too many main characters in this book, too much drama, too many finicky details to keep track of, never knowing which are even important for the future story. I also disliked the clear north/south bias which I'm not used to feeling so explicitly in British books.
Ultimately this book didn't win me over. It would have benefited from a faster start to get you hooked and slicker editing because though it's not excessively long, I thought it could have been tighter and told in fewer pages.
Thanks go to the publishers for sending us this book. For family drama that's a little more poignant, why not peek at Night Road by Kristin Hannah or if you're intent on having the mother's perspective, Every Last One by Anna Quindlen has a narrator whose life is just as trashed but who doesn't demand pity in quite the same way as this lot.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Empty Nesters by Nina Bell at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Empty Nesters by Nina Bell at Amazon.com.
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