Sunday, 19 August 2012

Book Review - Painting Naked by Maggie Dana

My first book review on my new blog which I have set up for non-horsy and adult book reviews and anything else which is not really suitable for my child friendly Pony Mad Booklovers Blog!

Appropriately this book does not feature a single horse or pony (although it is written by the author of a number of children's horse stories - and she has somehow managed to shoehorn the words 'pony' and 'horses' into the text just to remind us that is her true calling in life!)

Also appropriate for a new start is the fact that this is not my normal sort of read. I am not really much of a 'girly' girl. I don’t understand the shoe thing at all and the conventional male heroes of romantic fiction really turn me off. Therefore I don’t normally read romances or woman’s fiction. I usually find them dull, shallow and formulaic.

However Maggie Dana’s excellent novel is none of these things. Although ostensibly a romance about a woman who rediscovers her first love later in life, there is far more to the book than those bare bones. The novel attempts to explore many interesting aspects of relationships, in particular how the act of falling in love can change your relationships with the other people around you. And, even more tellingly, how it can negatively affect your own personality as it is subsumed by the power of emotion. Most romances don’t even question the way that a woman can lose her own identity in trying to conform to what she feels the man in her life wants her to be. In fact in the worst of them there is still an out-dated belief that a woman should mould herself into a certain type in order to ‘win her man.’ In Maggie Dana’s story the heroine, Jill, does indeed change when re-united with her first love Colin: treating her friends badly, losing her independence, and becoming increasingly erratic in her behaviour. But the author forces her heroine to confront these changes and question what she is doing.

The book also explores other serious issues including psychological parental abuse and physical spousal abuse.

However despite having a depth few romances aspire to, and tackling weighty issues many authors in the genre would shy away from, this book is not at all dull and depressing. On the contrary there is a light humourous touch throughout which balances out the serious aspects of the story and makes the book an easy pleasurable read. Humour ranges from out and out slapstick to wry observation on the oddities of life.

This novel also has another string to its bow, being something of a mystery story too. No, we are not talking Miss Marple or Inspector Morse here. The mysteries within the story are far more subtle. Such as why Jill’s mother seems to despise her and what is the secret behind Colin’s relationship with Shelby? The sense of hidden secrets slowly unfolding keeps the reader turning the pages in a way a conventional romance perhaps would not. There are various twists and turns throughout the book and we are never sure whether the story will have the conventional romantic ending or nor. Even the final scene is ambiguous and keeps us guessing!

But perhaps my favourite aspect of the book is that it treats the older woman as both human and sexual. These middle-aged women are not content to fade into the background as the stock motherly older woman character. They have lives, careers and interests of their own. And yes, they have sex. Lots of it! (In fact I’m starting to think I am doing something wrong!) The sex is very well handled, neither too coy nor too blatantly ’Fifty Shades’ soft porn, and with a humour that makes it extremely realistic.

Anyone of a certain age knows that though bits may start to sag and wrinkles appear, we are all still young on the inside and never really change that much. I love how the author portrays this by skillfully blending snippets of the heroine’s teenage years with her present day life. Jill and her old friend Sophie’s behaviour as adults parallels the things they did as teenagers, giggling over men, spying on the ‘boys’ and even decorating sans clothing! I think making the older characters still appear young in this way gives the book appeal to all ages, not just those readers who are a similar age to the main characters.

It sometimes pays to move out of your comfort zone and I would certainly have missed out had I not ventured outside my normal horse related/thriller/fantasy territory to try this excellent novel. Whether or not you like romances, whether you are 19 or 90 - if you want to read a story which has a bit of depth, a lot of humour and will keep you turning pages (and who doesn’t?) then this is the book for you!

Painting Naked is available as a Kindle e-book on Amazon