Happy Hour (Jacquie Byron, A&U)
Three years after her husband’s death, 65-year-old artist Frances Calderwood has developed a drinking problem and squirrelled herself away from human contact. However, the cocoon built by the quirky, acerbic Franny is threatened when a pair of troubled young siblings move in next door. There follows a two-steps-forward one-step-back dance of intimacy and separation as Franny learns anew how to let people in. Grief, love, loneliness and friendship are intertwined in this dense yet highly readable dramedy. Settings and characters are painted with an attractive depth of detail: Franny’s colourful home is brought to life and easily envisaged, and the child characters are thoughtfully rendered. Acquaintances of teenage girls will recognise the authenticity of Dee, whereas eight-year-old Josh is a poignant portrayal of a young boy struggling with his identity. Beneath the trappings of this novel’s commercial packaging lie some serious themes, not least the grieving process and the pain of losing a life partner, as well as an exploration of what makes for a successful long-term relationship. Franny’s misanthropic tendencies, her raw pain, her taste for fine food and love of a 5pm Tanqueray make her quite memorable—something of an older Eleanor Oliphant—and while she’s not always agreeable, she does arouse sympathy. This is high-quality general fiction that offers nuggets of wisdom and an entertaining ride for readers of all ages.
Joanne Shiells is a teacher, editor and former retail book buyer.