Phil: Back in July last year, I lost my chick-lit virginity to Cat by Freya North. A gentle introduction to the genre and one I surprised myself by enjoying.
Cat is one third of a trilogy based on the three McCabe sisters, the other being Pip and Fen. Guess which one is the subject of this book?
The idea is that this book and Cat’s take place at around the same time and events in one appear in the other. So, when Fen and Pip head of to France to visit their sister, you could say, “Oh, I know what happens when they get there.” even though it’s not in these pages. I found the idea novel, so spotting a tatty copy on sale in a charity bookshop while I was buying something else, I spent an extra 50p out of curiosity.
Anyway, the plot. Fen McCabe is the middle sister and something in the art world. She bags a new job sorting out the archive for an organisation that tries to stop important works heading out of the UK. This bit is based on the authors own experience as an archivist at the National Arts Collection Fund. She (Fen) is obsessed with the (fictitious) artist Julius Featherstone, a dead painter and sculptor, producer of the sort of mucky statues and canvases that rich people used to “admire” while chastising the lower orders for their lack of morals.
The new job brings her into contact with magazine editor Matt Holden and also the owner of a couple of Featherstone pieces, broke gardner James Caulfield.
To reduce the story to its basics, Matt lives in London, where Fen now resides. James lives in Derbyshire, where Fen was brought up. She falls into both love and bed with both of them. Much of the story revolves around here trying to sort out her feelings for both. There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking and quite a bit of narration talking to Fen, unusual but as a style it works well. A monologue of her thoughts would be really difficult to pull off whereas this comes over as though you were sat on a sofa with a glass of white, trying to sort out a friends love life.
I suspect this is pretty classic chick-lit. Whereas Cat had a strong background story in the Tour de France, Fen has to generate its own momentum and without a deadline to fixate on, it doesn’t manage to do this as well. There are no real surprises at the end apart from a hasty appearance of some photos and a sort of joined up family tree affair that lost me. I think the idea is that both lovers and Julius are in some way related but I can’t be bothered to go back and work it out. We had the same issue with The Book but recognised the problem and dropped a few clues into previously written passages. Here it looks like a bit of an afterthought.
There’s also the little issue of the sisters ages. Fen is the middle sister but apparently the same age (28) as her younger sibling, Cat. Not that it matters. Matt is a couple of years older, James 20 years so you can guess what happens in the end. Interestingly, reading her website, Freya was surprised who the character ended up with, something that amazed me as I couldn’t see the story playing out any other way. Incidentaly, she also tells us what happened to the characters after the books ended, a fascinating idea. Apparently this was the first book where North’s editor told her to tone down the sex, which might explain why it’s less raunchy than Cat but not to the detriment of the story.
Enjoyable? Yes, in a light and fluffy sort of way. I’ll keep an eye out for Pip so I can read the set.