The front cover of this book – all shredded wedding dress and peeling paint – caught my eye, and I thought: Ooh, dark. Exactly what I’m in the mood for. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. There are some shocking plot twists, but they weren’t executed well enough to be satisfying.
The Friedman family attend the wedding of young, good-looking couple Jamie and Lucy. The story is told from the viewpoint of the Friedman mother, Fran, who is in her mid-forties and suffering from depression after the stillbirth of her baby two years ago. The action is set over a weekend, with each chapter covering an hour. So the first chapter has Fran waking up in the hotel where all the wedding guests are staying and the reception will be held later. The second chapter takes place over breakfast, and later chapters feature the wedding, the sit-down meal, the evening disco, etc.
The first few chapters set up an intriguing situation. The characterisation is skilful, the atmosphere unsettling. There is clearly something going on between Fran and the young groom, Jamie, but just what is left unclear. The dynamic between Fran and her husband Saul is superb: his passive-aggressiveness is so well demonstrated that you long to grab him by the shoulders and give him a good shake. Their daughter’s death seems to have driven them further apart:
In the two years since I gave a final scream and Molly emerged perfect in every way except the one that most matters, the words he didn’t say (but must have thought) have grown between us like a phantom child, getting bigger, stronger, louder.
In obstetric terms, the words Saul didn’t say have thrived.
Then it doesn’t live up to the promise and just gets a bit tiresome. There are over 200 pages before the important plot revelations are made. The middle section of the story is too baggy, with too many repetitive actions. Jamie keeps touching Fran meaningfully on the arm and saying “We need to talk,” before being interrupted by other wedding guests. Fran keeps hurrying to the toilets to lock herself in a cubicle and have another meltdown. Mid-conversation, she keeps having flashbacks that last for pages while she remembers every little detail of events that happened years ago; yet supposedly only a few seconds have passed, and she is able to reply to the person she is in conversation with without them waving a hand in front of her face and shouting “Fran! Fran! You’ve been staring into the distance for half an hour!” Cohen could do with a good, strict editor. Towards the end, someone makes a remark about this being the most gruelling wedding party ever. It certainly felt like it at times for this reader.
The revelations are good (and do make you see what has gone before in a different light), but the issues are resolved a little too easily.
Oh, and there’s hardly any scene-setting with descriptions of rooms or surroundings. So there’s not much atmosphere. This can make all the difference with a dark psychological book. Eg, Rebecca is successful not just because of the situations and the relationships between the main characters, but because Manderley is so convincingly described that you can imagine being there.
Oh dear. I don’t like writing bad reviews; I’d much rather read a book I enjoy and then tell everyone how great it is. Surprisingly, however, I would consider reading a book by Cohen again, as there were flashes of good writing in this. This is her fourth novel, and I think perhaps her earlier novels were so successful that she has been allowed to get away with a sub-par book later because her publishers are lazy and know it will still sell.