What Women Want is the first novel by Fanny Blake, a journalist & writer in the UK. I was contacted by a publicist who asked if I’d like a copy to review & when I saw that Katie Fforde had given the book an enthusiastic plug I said I’d be happy to read it.
It’s the story of three friends in middle age, all coming to a crossroads in their lives. Bea is divorced, mother of mono-syllabic Ben, & facing a crisis at work. The publishing firm she works for is taken over by a young, ruthless man who has very definite ideas about the future of the imprint & Bea wonders whether she still has the passion for the job that she once did. There isn’t a lot of passion in other areas of her life either as she goes on a series of very funny dates with men met through a dating agency, Let’s Have Lunch.
Kate is a GP, now a partner in the practice. Frantically busy at work but more with admin than actually treating her patients, Kate is permanently exhausted. Two of her three children have left home & her marriage to Paul seems to have fallen into a slump. Paul seems permanently stressed & unwilling to talk to Kate about any problems. When he suddenly smartens up his image, with a new haircut & visits to the gym, Kate fears that she may lose him altogether.
Ellen has been a widow for over 10 years. She runs an art gallery & she has poured her life into the business & her garden. She has two teenage children and has never looked at another man until recently when Oliver came into her life. Younger than Ellen, very attractive, Oliver sweeps Ellen off her feet & into bed. At first she’s overwhelmed & on cloud nine. Gradually though, niggling dounts creep in. Oliver isn’t satisfied with Ellen’s grey hair, comfortable clothes & slightly overweight self. First it’s new lingerie & a salon makeover. Soon he’s watching what she eats & trying, not altogether successfully, to ingratiate himself with her children. There are other incidents that should make Ellen wary but she’s so much in love that the fact that Oliver is cagey about his past, has no money & is happy for Ellen to pay his rent in a swish studio flat, don’t make as much impression as they should. Until Bea & Kate find out about the relationship, of course.
What are friends for if they don’t look out for each other? Ellen has always been the one to be pitied for the loss of her husband & the brave way she’s carried on since. Kate is the sensible, centred one with her life all mapped out. Bea is the wildcard, from her wardrobe full of impulse purchases to her self-indulgent love of wine & expensive chocolates. Bea is immediately suspicious of Oliver & his motives & starts digging into his background. What she discovers leads to a rift between the three women that could end their friendship.
I enjoyed What Women Want very much. Bea is an especially vibrant character & lots of fun. Fanny Blake’s experience in publishing shows in Bea’s struggles at work & her attempts to out-Machiavelli a younger, thinner, more ruthless rival for her job. Most of the humour in the book comes from Bea too & her many misadventures with men whether it’s her boss, the slimy toad she meets who leaves her with a nasty present after a one-night stand, or the kind, thoughtful man who just may be the one she’s looking for, even if he does wear lycra bike shorts. Ellen’s predicament is also very real. She has spent the last ten years mourning her husband, raising her children & burying herself in her work so Oliver’s attentions just bowl her over & her emotions take over. The gradual realisation that Oliver isn’t all he seems is beautifully done.
The only problem I have with the book is the packaging. The cover really doesn’t do justice to the contents. I’m not a fan of chick lit covers & raised gold print so I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if I hadn’t been offered a review copy. The contents are more serious, & more interesting, than the cover, with its champagne glasses & high heeled shoes, would lead you to expect.