Sunday 15 August 2010

Book review : Pictures of You - Jane Elmor

This is one of the books that I packed in my suitcase for our fortnight in Turkey that we've just returned from. The cover and the strapline - "Three women. Three mothers. Three secrets." - made me think that it would be a light, flimsy, feelgood chicklit read that would while away a few hours by the pool but be instantly forgettable. It wasn't - it's a lot deeper and I was pleasantly surprised.

Now, call me a child of the 80's but the title instantly had me singing to myself the opening lines of The Cure's song called Pictures of You : "I've been looking so long at these pictures of you that I almost believe that they're real. I've been living so long with my pictures of you that I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel". Once I'd finished reading the book, these words seemed strangely apt as one of the recurring themes of the book is the way pictures - be they photographs, portraits, collages, perceptions - can come to represent people in often strangely warped, inaccurate ways. Getting to know the real person behind the image can sometimes come as a nasty shock.

The novel follows the paths of three women from three different generations whose destinies intertwine - Angie, swept up into the hippy communes and free love lifestyle of the 60's/70's ; Luna, her daughter, struggling artist of the 80's/90's ; Nat, drug-addled, abused teen-mum of the 90's/noughties, desperately trying to hang on to her kids and survive on a grim London housing estate. While Angie and Luna are instantly connected as mother and daughter, frequently offering two different perspectives on shared past experiences, Nat stuck out as a totally random person who seemed to have nothing to do with them. In the final shocking chapters, her destiny is nevertheless intertwined with Luna's in unexpected ways.

The cover proclaims that this is a book about motherhood and it certainly looks at different attitudes to maternity - Angie is the mum who didn't want to be one, Luna is the one who desperately longs to be a mum and Nat, if we're brutally honest, probably never should have been one. But each woman has other issues to deal with. Seemingly idyllic lifestyles, such as the free-love hippy commune or the struggling artist scenario, take on a more sinister or less satisfying edge and the women have to take control of their destinies and shape their futures as they see fit.

The men all seem pretty despicable, when you think about it. We have violent thugs, unfaithful husbands, sexual predators, needy stalker types, middle-aged cassanovas who won't take no for an answer ... The women also have their faults and often make bad decisions but nevertheless, I felt this black and white distinction between the sexes was a bit too clear-cut.

It's a really enjoyable read, examining the female psyche at various stages of life and in history and getting beneath the surface, showing the seedy underside that can easily be overlooked when just looking at a picture of someone. I really liked the detailed stories of Luna and Angie but still felt that Nat didn't really fit into the story as an equal, her role seeming more a means to an end or a simple plot device than a key character. It's chicklit with a gritty edge.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £7.99

Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: Pan (3 July 2009)
ISBN-10: 0230014569
ISBN-13: 978-0230014565

Other reviews you might be interested in :
Book review : Henry's Sisters - Cathy Lamb
Book review : Afterlight - Alex Scarrow
Book review : Love and Summer - William Trevor
Book review : Innocent - Scott Turow

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with the Nat's character being apart, and as I've not yet finished the book, I'm keen to see if and how she will be linked to the other 2 characters. Having read My Vintage Summer I decided to give this one a try, and for the moment, I'm enjoying it, but impatient to find out how it ends.


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