Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review: Better Off Without Him

By Becky Gulc

Successful historical romance writer. Mother of three teenage daughters. Happily married? Well, this 45 year-old woman thinks so until her husband Brian suddenly announces he’s leaving her one spring day, not next week, not tomorrow, right now, and for a younger French woman called Dominique. Welcome to Mona’s world.

Mona is shocked beyond belief! How can a marriage suddenly end when everything was just fine? When they were still having regular sex? Yes, still having regular sex, after twenty years. Distraught Mona has little time to really absorb what’s happening as she’s distracted, at least briefly, by plumbing problems, cocktails served up by her faithful friend Patricia which almost anaesthetises Mona until the unexpected arrival of Aunt Lily, who is very vocal and here to stay. Then toss in Ben the plumber, who has quite frankly been a bit of a distraction for Mona and the inspiration for many of the seduction scenes in her novels for quite some time now.

A range of characters surround Mona as we join her story from the day Brian announces he’s leaving in April up until the following January around the time of the divorce hearing. A lot of the novel is set on the Jersey Shore where Mona and her daughters spend the summer, as they now have done for many years. I really felt transported there and felt like I was on a little holiday myself. It’s whilst on holiday that Mona’s daughters suggest it’s time for her to begin dating again or at least 'practice' dating to begin with. What follows is a series of comical dates and scenarios; some with people Mona has been friends with or known of for years, others with complete strangers. With Mona starting to spend a lot of time with Doug (one of those ugly-but-sexy people), can they remain just friends with benefits or will they fall for each other? Will newcomer Mitch, with whom Mona seems to have so much in common, make her want to stop practising and get on with the real thing? Will Brian change his mind? And will Mona ever finish her latest novel?

I really enjoyed this novel and was hooked and made the connection needed with Mona within the first chapter. Mona is a strong, witty woman and as the story was told through her viewpoint, it made for a very comical read, there are some great one-liners. I loved the supporting characters too, they were all very well developed and even though we didn’t delve into their viewpoints I felt like I knew them all so well. Aunt Lily is a great character and reminded me of my Grandma, never afraid to say what she thinks but lovable with it!

I would maybe have liked to have seen greater interaction with the daughters as the novel progressed, to re-capture some of the seriousness of parents divorcing when children are in their teens, and maybe a bit more reflection on the marriage from Mona as it was mainly presented in a light-hearted way but that’s just me grasping at straws for constructive criticism. The structure of the book works really well and although in terms of plot the story was quite simple, the pace was relaxed but never dull and as a reader you are kept guessing as to how it will all end, with Mona adamant that her latest heroine will not be focusing on finding a man, but being happy post break-up on her own, will fiction become fact?

"Better Off Without Him" was the first self-published novel I read and I may have felt a little sceptical that it would be of the same standard as those going through publishing houses, but, I was wrong, and I’m so glad I was! Yes the cover is nothing to write home about, and you may just ignore it if it was sitting on a shelf or you read the blurb on the back which is merely an extract, but don’t, it’s definitely a good read and definitely worth picking up (or downloading to your e-reader). This novel is funny and I enjoyed spending the time in Mona’s world. I would definitely recommend it.

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