Reviewed by Janet Lan, Friday Morning Book Group.....take our poll!

(March 7, 2005) The wide definition of middle age in the Oxford English Dictionary as being the period between youth and old age leaves little doubt that the members of our book group are all middle-aged women. Yet, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that we decided to read this book, afraid from the title that this might be popular fiction with little substantial content for discussion. We were all pleasantly surprised to find that we were wrong. In fact, although maybe not great literature, it is a beautifully written and sensitive story which gently and intelligently evokes many aspects of women's lives from youth to middle age.

The women in the book come from three generations and bring with them differing attitudes to work outside the home along with varying approaches to female roles towards children and husbands within the home. They are all remarkably strong women, faced with huge challenges and in the end survive and move on with their lives with grace. According to an interview that the author gave a couple of years ago, the title of this book stems from the Spanish proverb "Living well is the best revenge." This is something that we could all remember, when feeling that life is overwhelming.

And overwhelming it becomes for the protagonist Rose, a 47 year old book editor for a London paper. The sequence of events, although cruel and somewhat incredible, could nevertheless happen to any one of us at any time. The lack of warning was particularly alarming to our group. We gradually learn of the influence her first passionate love may have had on her husband's insecurity over 25 years of an outwardly happy and productive marriage. Timing of important life events is explored through the eyes of both Rose and her children. Not surprisingly, Rose is greatly helped through her ordeal by her very good friends and a few lucky breaks with work and love.

We discussed some of the reasons why at a certain age some men feel the need to abandon their families and seek "space" and fulfillment elsewhere and how they often find themselves back once again in a restrictive environment with their new families. We were told that frequently the husbands request to return to their original wives, but very often the wife has moved on with her life and no longer wants her ex-husband back. Is this revenge or just common sense? One member of our group felt that on several levels the author's attitude to motherhood was mean-spirited. We wondered whether early love affairs prior to marriage should be discussed within the marriage. Maybe this does not help secure firm bonds between people, given that love affairs when very young may appear more passionate and important than they deserve.

The author is English and brings British understatement and wit, English gardens and wisdom, to this easy-to-read and uplifting novel.

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