Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron was a delightful surprise. It very much reminded me of other books I’ve loved, The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock, Everything is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray and Saving Missy by Beth Morrey.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m ageing, but I appreciate books about older women (or men) and it’s a reminder that lives can be just as happy or messy or uncertain no matter whether you’re 20 or 70.Happy Hour
by Jacquie Byron
Published by Allen and Unwin
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
Gin in one hand, paintbrush in the other, Franny Calderwood has turned her back on the world, or at least the world she used to love. Having lost her husband, Frank, in tragic circumstances three years earlier, 65-year-old Franny copes the only way she knows how: by removing herself completely from the life she had before. Franny lives a life of decadent seclusion, with only her two dogs, Whisky and Soda, a stuffed cat, cocktails and the memory of Frank for company.
Then the Salernos move in next door. The troubled but charming trio - beleaguered mother Sallyanne, angry teenager Dee and eccentric eight-year-old Josh - cannot help but pull Franny into the drama of their lives. But despite her fixation with independence, Franny's wisecracks and culinary experiments hide considerable trauma and pain, and when her eccentric behaviour has life-threatening consequences she faces a reckoning of sorts. Yes, Frank is dead, but did the woman he loved have to perish with him?
This is a lovely read and exactly what I needed when feeling overwhelmed by life and worrying that I wasn’t living up to my own and others’ expectations.
Byron’s character development is a stand-out here. Franny is great. Nuanced enough so she’s not a caricature. She’s the quintessential crotchety older woman, but… with style and standards. I adored everything about her: her penchant for wine and well-crafted cocktails. Her love of trying adventurous new recipes. Her fetish for awards shows and I could very much relate to her making an ‘event’ out of her viewing. And then of course there’s the depth of character we’re offered. She felt very very real. As did the love she and her husband Frank had for each other despite their shared grief and past losses. (Later in the book) Byron includes a letter from Frank that Franny discovers and it’s heart-wrenching. But it also made me sad… not for them, but for me (cos hello… #selfabsorbed) and trying to imagine what it would be like to have someone love you like that. Someone who is grateful for your love (and the fact you’ve chosen to bestow it upon them)… and the very fact you’re alive.
Josh, Dee and Sallyanne are great as well and again, Byron has given us characters who could easily be clichés but instead they’re strong and vivid, but at the same time, subtle.
This book is a borderline 4.5 star read for me and I realise those numbers are all very subjective but I really really enjoyed it. I hate to use the wanky ‘j’ word but absolutely loved the ‘journey’ we go on with Franny here and the way in which Byron tempers and paces it.
When I reviewed Everything is Beautiful I commented that I appreciated its author (Ray) didn’t have the lead character ‘conform’. Sure she makes positive changes in her life but (as a hoarder) she doesn’t necessarily stop hoarding. It’s the same here. Others raise concerns about Franny’s drinking, her lifestyle and the way in which she’s distanced herself from everyone in her life. And though she recognises she needs to make changes, she does so on her own terms. It’s refreshing and offers a happily ever after without the extreme fairytale lightbulb ‘I’m all better now’ moment.
Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes.