Reading the title „The Only Way is Up“ of course instantly put the tune of that late 1980s (or was it early 90s?) pop song into my head – I wonder if it will be the same for you now reading this review!
So far, I had not come across the author, Carole Matthews, although she has published 22 “hugely successful” (according to her website, www.carolematthews.com) novels in 16 years. They are, as you’ve probably guessed from a glimpse at the cover picture, what generally is known as Chick Lit. My mother-in-law, Mary, gave this one to me during my stay in Ripon back in June. It is the kind of book she likes; nothing too terrible, a plot easy enough to follow, a bit of simple humour, and some kitchen-table wisdom thrown in for good measure. This type of reading does have its allure, I don’t deny it – it is good to wind down with after a long, demanding day at the office, and I did want to know what’ll happen next.
But what does actually happen? In brief: Rich family loses everything and discovers life isn’t all about money, and money can’t buy happiness.
Lily, Laurence and their two children return from a very expensive holiday to find their posh home has been repossessed by the bank – they can’t even get in to fetch some personal belongings. All they have left is what little cash they happened to be carrying and the holiday clothes in their suitcases. There is no way they can turn to any of their former “friends” – who prove not to have been true friends at all – but end up in a council housing estate of the worst kind. Everything there is very different from what life had been like for them until now: the rubbish tip that doubles for a terraced house and “garden”, the state school for the children (as opposed to the posh boarding schools they attended before), the shabby little shop offering low quality food for high prices, the run-down pub, the neighbours…
With surprising swiftness, the family settle into their new surroundings. Nearly all of their neighbours turn out very different from what they expected them to be at first glance; the children like their new school much better than the old one, and although it takes some time before Laurence finds a job, Lily surprises everyone by getting work nearly as soon as she starts looking.
But every time something good happens to the family, something else occurs that threatens to throw them back to Square One. Even Lily’s job, although well paid and not strenuous, begins to create more problems instead of solving them.
Of course, it wouldn’t be this kind of book if things weren’t going to end with happy smiles all around. But to get there is not a straight, easy line, and (although predictable more often than not) the twists and turns kept me wanting to read on. The idea of what happens if you have to start over from scratch, and how different people react under the same (extreme) circumstances, is fascinating. I’ve had my own share of life-changing events (although so far the bank has not attempted to evict me from my flat – and hopefully never will!), so I can sympathize to an extent.
One thing I have remarked upon in what I’ll broadly class as “contemporary British novels” several times here in my reviews is the amount of booze consumed by the characters, and “The Only Way is Up” is no exception.
Everything that happens – good or bad – is an excuse for drinking. Lily finds a job? Get the cheap white wine out! The neighbour has a problem with a credit shark? Fetch the brandy! Laurence discovers the joy in working on an allotment? Hand him a beer or four! And of course, as is the habit of this type of book, it is always very, very funny (not in my eyes) the way people behave when they are drunk. I am actually a little surprised that Mary, who enjoyed the book enough to have given it to me, wasn’t bothered by all that drinking. She never drinks any alcohol and has had unpleasant experiences with alcoholism in her own family more than once. Please don’t get me wrong; I do drink alcohol, heck – I even throw cocktail parties for my birthdays and other occasions – and certainly like a few glasses of sparkling wine, but I simply don’t see the point in drinking all the time, or getting so plastered that the day after you either can’t remember what was going on or you remember only too well and are ashamed about what you did (and who with). If you’ve ever been out with me, you’ll know I am certainly not a spoilsports. I just can’t see why people (= characters in books) can’t have fun without copious amounts of booze.
OK, that was my rant for today. I did like the book well enough but I’m afraid I would never spend any money on Carole Matthews works.