25 April 2008


249 pages, Allen & Unwin, 2008.

Recently married to Al, the "apricot colonel", Cassandra Travers is a freelance editor living in Canberra. At a local newsagent, Cassandra meets up with Briony, a pal from university days. When they meet up again a few days later Briony tells Cassandra about her new lover, the love of her life, who just happens to be a married man. He is the father of one of the girls that Briony teaches. And then the girl attempts to blackmail Briony, threatening to tell the headmistress of her father and Briony's affair, unless Briony gives her good grades. And then - you've guessed it - the girl is found dead of a drugs overdose, which begins to look like murder.

I nearly didn't finish reading this. Just when I was on the point of giving it the heave-ho, the plot would take a little turn for the better. The improvements turned out to be illusory, and in the long run I hated it. However if you like chick-lit it may be just your cup of tea. And Marion Halligan has apparently published over 20 books, so I'm prepared to concede that her writing may well be justifiably beloved by others. Perhaps I just missed the whole point of this book.

Near the end Cassandra says " I have this theory, about reading books, it's all to do with rhythm. Sometimes you find yourself in prose that has a rhythm that sometimes suits yours and so you are carried along with your reading of it, it chimes beautifully with your own sensibility. It's like what they call chemistry with a lover. It explains why some people love books that others can't stand." She's so right! - that must be the reason I hated this one. I just don't march to the same drum that Marion Halligan does.

The frustrating thing is that at times, Halligan makes some really insightful comments, mainly of the philosophical kind, that I heartily concur with.

But what in particular did I not like?
  • there were side stories that made almost no sense to me. Some were very trivial and added almost nothing to the plot.
  • new husband Al likes cross-dressing, passing himself off as woman
  • I got sick of the Al loves me and I love him stuff.
  • the writing had a gossipy, "I'm telling you a secret", tone to it
  • the "apricot colonel", "apricot coast" thing feels like an in-joke - perhaps I would understand if I had started with the first book THE APRICOT COLONEL, which I haven't read, and now have no intention of reading.
  • Somewhere along the track Marion Halligan decided to do away with the punctuation conventions of dialogue. You know, those little " things which give you the clue that someone is actually speaking. I don't know whether it is something she has recently decided to do or whether she has been practising it for a long time. But it annoyed the hell out of me and made distinguishing speech from inner thoughts almost impossible.
If you want to "suck and see" before you buy or borrow the book, then you can locate an extract here. There's also biographical details for Marion Halligan, and a list of 7 other titles available from Allen and Unwin.

My rating: 2.5

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