2007, 344 p.
Although I’m well aware that I probably fit a reading-market segment very neatly (retired, university-educated, politically progressive, book-grouper, ABC watcher) I don’t like reading books that feel as if they have been written precisely to fit a market niche. Unfortunately, this is just how Reading in Bed felt to me, and the ‘Daily Mail Book Club Summer Selection’ sticker on the front was the probably final kiss of death in my approach to the book.
The book opens with two sixty-year old, long-time friends returning home to London from the Hay Reading Festival. Georgia has been recently widowed, and is wondering how to fill in her life. Her thirty-one year old daughter has embarked on a relationship with a married man – not that she has confided this news in her mother- and Georgia needs to find aged care accommodation for her husband’s batty old cousin Maud. Her friend Dido (and even the name annoyed me) is returning home to her noisy family, with her married children, grandchildren and her academic husband Jeffrey. The two couples had been friends, their now-adult children are known and loved by each other, and they are all missing Georgia’s husband Henry after he died with cancer. As the book unfolds, Georgia’s daughter needs to sort out her relationship with the not-quite separated Jez; there is trouble in Dido’s son’s marriage to Paula, Dido falls ill and comes to distrust the solidity of her marriage.
It’s like living someone else’s life vicariously, sprinkled with literary allusions that the well-read 60 year old female reader will recognize and BBC4 name-dropping that is familiar even to an Australian ABC watcher and BBC overnight listener. There are descriptions of meals and outfits – oh, how tedious- and page after page of internal monologue as each very ordinary character muddles through her own private but unexceptional little life dramas.
It is written in the present tense with an omniscient narrator who stumbles onstage occasionally, blinks and then scuttles back to the curtains:
In London, Georgia and Chloe do their very best. They go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve as they’ve always done. Both of them cry as ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ sounds in that pure high note through the crowds of people, but then, who doesn’t? I’m crying now, just writing about it. (p.334)
The dialogue is written almost like a play, with no quotation marks or ‘he saids’ and ‘she saids’. The narrative skips from one character to the other, with just a slightly larger space between the paragraphs. No detail is too small.
Enough! I’m already living this middlebrow life- a term I very much dislike but somehow it seems particularly appropriate- and I don’t need to read it in this middlebrow book. That’s about six hours of reading that I’ve wasted- most of it in bed, just as the title predicts.
My rating: 5/10
Sourced from: CAE bookgroup and read for bookgroup.