Tuesday 16 February 2010

Book review : My Last Confession - Helen FitzGerald

One of my all-time favourite authors is Kathy Lette, who - if you don't know her - is a hilariously funny, loud-mouthed Australian author who somehow manages to absolutely capture the feelings and thoughts that I, and presumably millions of other women, have had at key moments in life, such as getting married, pregnancy, being a new mum ... For some reason, as soon as I read the blurb on the back of this book (including a short extract), it sounded just like it could have been written by and about Kathy Lette and this feeling stayed with me throughout the whole novel. Reading the little author's biography on the first page, I noticed that Helen FitzGerald grew up in Australia, although she now lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children, so maybe that's why it reminded me so much of Kathy Lette.

The front cover, showing a lady curled up in bed in a nightie and some swirly flowery designs, screams chick-lit but my initial thoughts were that this was more like a crime thriller. There is a love story and a tale of working, overstretched mum trying to deal with everything life can throw at her, but there is also so much more.

At one point in the narrative, Chas, the lead character's significant other, declares that a love story isn't a straight line, it's a circle, with the two people constantly coming together then moving apart before rediscovering each other and learning to know and fall in love again time and time again. This image of the circular tale perhaps explains why the author decides to start the book where it should finish, telling us in the opening chapter how the book will end. We know that Krissie will be sobbing with terror on her wedding day, screaming at someone to phone for an ambulance as she watches Chas's life slipping away. Once she's told us where we are heading, we return to the beginning and watch and wait while the book goes full circle to take us back to this heart-rending final episode. I was initially disappointed because, although watching Krissie's life spiral out of control as she gets herself deeper and deeper into trouble is fascinating, it did remove any element of suspense about, for example, whether the star-crossed lovers would get back together again after a disastrous party leads to a temporary break-up. That said, the end does still maintain a couple of mini-surprises.

Krissie is a wonderful character, and could indeed have stepped straight out of a Kathy Lette novel. She's exuberant, spontaneous, loud-mouthed and funny and throws herself into everything, be that motherhood, her relationship with Chas or her new job, with 100% of her being. She's also gullible, naive and decidedly wreckless but above all, she is so totally human that we can't help but totally empathise with her and shudder at the situation she finds herself in. We've all had one too many at a party and done something we regret at some point in her lives so even if we can shake our heads and will her not to be so silly, we can't condemn her actions. She could be any one of us.

The crime story is really interesting because of the narrator's viewpoint. We're used to seeing crime fiction narrated by the murderer, the victim or the detective investigating the case, but in this tale, Krissie is a parole officer. A new one, who's only been in the job for a few short weeks and who finds herself totally out of her depth. Again, she makes all the mistakes that any one of us could make.

The back of the book gives us a quote from the Sunday Telegraph, saying that "For quality chick-lit with a murderous twist, look no further than FitzGerald's brand of thinking woman's noir". The chick-lit label initially annoyed me - this is so much more than the usual fluffy, bland, one-dimensional tales of romance and shopping and why, just because the lead character is female, should we assume that this book is aimed at women ? But then I got down off my high horse and reluctantly agreed that women probably would most closely identify with Krissie in, for example, such trivial (to everyone but a new mum) but emotionally-charged moments as leaving their child for the first time to go off to work. If he cries, it breaks your heart, but if he doesn't cry, it breaks it even more - it totally strikes a chord with mums everywhere but would probably go over the heads of most male readers.

So yes, it is chick-lit, but it's also a whole lot more. It's a fascinating glimpse into the life of parole officers and social workers (Helen worked as both for over ten years), a high-octane crime novel and an emotional rollercoaster ride that will have you laughing out loud and sniffing into your hankie by turns. I totally enjoyed this as a standalone novel but have since discovered that Krissie appeared in an earlier novel, Dead Lovely so I'll definitely be adding that to my list of books to be read. Watch out Kathy Lette, you have some serious competition now !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £10.99

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Faber and Faber (4 Jun 2009)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0571239676
ISBN-13: 978-0571239672

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