Justine Picardie, Wish I May (2004)

I don’t remember how I heard about Picardie in the litblog-world, but I came expecting a mix between a comfort book (the blue cover art with a child running in a field), a psychological family novel (the back cover) and a chicklit romp (a single mother looking for a new love and a new start in life). It was not exactly that, or to be precise, the book never really managed to define itself and navigated from one possibility to the next.

Kate is in her mid-thirties, divorced mother of a 8-year-old boy and journalist in a glossy magazine. She is obsessed with her mother’s death, many years ago, in a car crash that might have been suicide or accident. She hears her mother talk in her head, criticizing her, and wonders if she’s depressed or crazy. She doubts of her ability to be in a functioning relationship given her own past record and her parents’ divorce. She interrogates the events of her childhood, and that leads her to a new perspective on her relatives she previously considered a perfectly-balanced model family. In Kate’s family, everyone has a dysfunctional and/or depressed side.

That’s one way of seeing it (through dark glasses). One I wasn’t quite ready to appreciate (bad timing on my side).

The other (wearing rose-coloured glasses) is a more conventional story where divorced Kate meets a prospective charming prince and where we are expected to wonder how she will build a nice blended family with an ex-husband, a crazy father, a flirting cousin, a new love interest, her own child and his child and his separated, aggressive wife. Have no fear, the happy ending is not too far.

I kept reading not because the tension built up but because my own frustration built up. The book grated on me because it was so passive and indecisive. I kept expecting things to clear up and get better and I was disappointed when they didn’t.

In a pragmatic way, I can only steer you toward better books on similar themes. Kate’s midlife crisis pales a lot in comparison with Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park, which managed to be really unsettling. Difficult parents and relatives make a more convincing plot in Patrick Gale’s Notes of an Exhibition, where adult children are left to wonder after the death of their mentally-unstable mother-cum-artist.

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