Monday 14 September 2009

Sleepless Nights - Sarah Bilston

Quinn (or Q, as everyone calls her) has just come through the pregnancy from hell (the subject of the first instalment, Bed Rest, which I haven't read, although I would now like to). And she survived ! But now, much as she loves him, she finds herself living with the baby from hell, who spends all his time crying uncontrollably and screaming for hours on end for no apparent reason. Baby Samuel is six weeks old at the start of the book, exactly the age of my own baby, so I could really sympathise with Q's emotional turmoil, stress and, at times, sheer panic. The ups and downs of life as a new mother are accurately portrayed, not without humour, and several times, the storytelling reminded me of a watered-down version of Kathy Lette - who just happens to be my favourite author. She'll make you laugh, she'll make you cry - but maybe that's just my post-pregnancy hormones settling down !

But this book is a real "three-for-the-price-of-one", bringing together three distinct parts. We have an emotional tale of maternal angst. Then we have a detective story - Q goes back to work and, along with her husband, takes on a small-town law firm and their first case. And thanks to Jeanie, Q's sister who has come over from England to help look after her nephew, we have the romantic elements of a classic, complicated, chick-lit love story.

The book therefore will appeal to multiple audiences. But, unfortunately, it is also a case of "Jack of all trades, master of none". The story of Q's problematic motherhood is all-encompassing for the first part of the book. Q cannot bear to have her baby out of sight (or even out of touch) and both parents are terrified, taking him to hospital in the middle of the night and contacting specialist doctors. But then, when they are ready to go back to work and the book is reading to move into its next phase as a detective novel, baby Samuel suddenly gets better, stops crying and his parents stop being obsessed with him. It's all just a bit too convenient ! The love story element is also a bit too superficial and predictable.

But then I glanced at the cover and wondered if the book's structure wasn't actually supposed to be representative of its main character. The author seems to have tried to blend three things into one, just as Q must try to juggle her triple role as mother, career woman and wife. The number three seems to be strangely important in fact, as we have three sisters, the career-driven Q in America, fun-loving Jeanie temporarily in the States and full-time mum and wife Alison, back home in England.

I actually had trouble working out if the girls were English or American to begin with. Quinn seems to be the classic hyperactive, intense American woman, Alison is the strait-laced, semi-aristocratic woman that you could imagine setting out afternoon tea on lacy doilies and Jeanie, the Brit abroad, is in between. This was not helped by American terms, such as crib death, coming out of the mouths of supposedly English characters. But this slight identity crisis is surely the result of the author's transatlantic lifestyle (an English girl, married to an American and living in Connecticut - just like Q ! ) and the fact that I was reading the American edition so perhaps some words were americanised.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. If you specifically want a detective story, a love story or a "new mum" story, you'd be better off picking someone who concentrates on just one genre, but for a lightweight, heartwarming read (just right, when you're going through your own sleepless nights !), it's perfect.

star rating : 4/5

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Harper (August 11, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0060889942
ISBN-13: 978-0060889944

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