Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stella Makes Good

I was lucky enough to get the chance to read and review an uncorrected proof copy of Lisa Heidke's new novel "Stella Makes Good", soon to be published by Allen & Unwin.
   Blurb: Stella Sparks is on good terms with her ex-husband, Terry, despite the fact he left her for another woman. Stella's philosophical - the marriage had run its course, they remain friends and the wellbeing of their kids is central to both of them.
   Stella's two closest friends, Carly and Jesse, envy her togetherness and wish they could emulate it. Jesse's husband, Steve, is a control freak who's driving her crazy, but she has two small children and can't see a way out. Carly, meanwhile, suspects her husband is having an affair and isn't sure what to do about it.
   Stella's life takes a distinctly upward turn when she meets a handsome, apparently single - no ring, anyway - father at her son's school speech night. For Carly and Jesse, however, the search for happiness and fulfilment proves more elusive ..
   With a healthy dose of humour and romance 'Stella Makes Good' is about the games we play, the secrets we keep, the unpredictable nature of life and the importance of female friendship.

This was a really smooth, easy read. A light-hearted escape. The characters came alive through their thoughts and dialogue. The issues they dealt with will resonate with many Australian women, whether they are married with children or not.
   Each of the women was very unique. Carly really annoyed me. She was very superficial. She seemed to associate lust with love, and if the sex wasn't wild then there was no love. She also thought that she needed to be a stay-home mother for her teenage children, as if they wouldn't survive (and probably be better rounded people) if she went back to work. She also encouraged Jesse, the most troubled character, to have some 'freedom and adventure', when what Jesse needed most was 'respect and stability'. Carly also became very worried that her son was gay, which is very politically incorrect.
   Jesse was the most interesting character. She was almost crippled by her husband's emotional domestic violence. But she had such inspiring moments of strength and courage that this saved her from being insipid.
   Stella (I'm not sure what she made good, or that she even had to make good) is the balanced character, or at least appears that way to her friends. She is actually fairly scared of a new relationship. But she is very generous, conscientious and the friend that everyone wants to have. She is independent, and she accepts her teenage children for who they are. I liked her a lot.
   The change in tense used in the novel was interesting - the story was written in first person when Stella was the central narrator. Then a more removed third-person narrator took over when either of the other women was the central character of a particular section.
   The story was mainly driven by dialogue and thought. There was minimal descriptions offered, and I struggled to visualise the characters, they were just blurry outlines in my mind, except for June, Stella's mother-in-law who is very vivid. Because of the lack of description, there were a few awkward places where time seemed to jump: one moment they were in the car talking, and the next minute they were entering the hospital ward in the same conversation. There were a couple of other places where time seemed to be wrong, such as the story was supposed to be set around the end of January and start of February, but one of the children was talking about exams.
   The only other criticism I have is that there are too many modern references that the book is going to date very quickly. It refers to current movies and TV series, current video games and social media games. I don't think they're necessary - they just annoyed me, like Lisa was trying to prove that she was up-to-date enough to know that these things are around. They are not important to the story. The main characters acknowledge that they are not up to speed with everything their kids are into - it should probably just have vague references to what the kids are up to, since their activities are not central.
   Overall, great read. Look out for this book in January 2012.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great book with many strengths. I like that you mentioned that putting so many modern names/items in the book will date it. Very true- and sometimes you need someone else to tell you that. Even if the writer can take out a few of the examples it might help in the longrun. Overall, your review made me interested in the story.