After one war novel too many – I should never have started Toby’s Room when I did – and a weekend of giving up books I was sorely in need of a palate cleanser on Monday. Billed by Virago as having ‘shades of Joanna Briscoe and Maggie O’Farrell’ Olivia Glazebrook’s second novel seemed like it might do the trick although it has to be said I have been caught out by that kind of comparison before.
It opens with Eliza’s announcement that her piano teacher once knew her parents, news that seems innocent enough but it soon becomes clear that this is a past coming back to haunt you kind of novel making it far from comfortable news for her father. Told through a blend of flashbacks and present day, Never Mind Miss Fox smoothly switches points-of-view between Clive, Martha and Eliza. Clive emerges as something of a misfit, a far from cool teenager who grows into a weak, self-absorbed man. Martha, much brighter and self-assured, finds herself overwhelmed by motherhood, desperate to return to work until an accident involving Eliza throws her into a pit of guilt. Eliza, bullied at school, conceives a gigantic crush on Eliot Fox much to the horror of her father. As the past emerges the full extent of Clive’s involvement with Eliot becomes clear and his attempts to stop his daughter from seeing her again have sobering results.
Never Mind Miss Fox engages from the start and keeps that engagement going through its strong characterisation as well as a driving need to find out what happens next. Clive is the kind of man who makes a cup of tea for himself when there are two people in the room, seeing only the threat Eliot poses to his own future rather than how much she means to his vulnerable daughter. Martha’s change from successful translator, constantly in demand, to guilt-ridden mother perpetually unsure of her daughter’s love is convincing – the only weak link being what she’s doing with Clive in the first place. Eliza’s upset, worry and puzzlement at what is happening between her parents is poignantly and compellingly conveyed, no mean feat when writing from a child’s point-of view. This is a novel about betrayal which steers deftly clear of a clichéd revenge tale, exploring instead the far more interesting territory of the emotional fallout that surrounds it. It doesn’t quite have the gripping quality of an O’Farrell novel – for me she’s the master of dual narrative suspense – but it’s a satisfying afternoon’s read that comes close. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to start again. Do you sometimes hit a jaded patch in your reading and if so how do you get over it?