|Jan/Feb 2003 Book Reviews|
Pan Macmillan (December 2002) 284 pages
ISBN: 0 7329 1163 X
A source, a source, my kingdom for a source... What my therapist actually asked me to pinpoint was the ROOT of my dissatisfaction, not the source, but you try substituting the word "root" above and see where it gets you.
It's a great opening paragraph and it neatly sums up the character of the narrator and the ironic humour of the book. The fact that the narrator has no name, other than Mum, Mummy, Darling, and Bitch!, also tells you something. Firstly, that the book has something to do with being female, and secondly, that the narrator is very much a mother. And every mother will recognize the narrator's feeling of searching for some fragment of self in the midst of twenty-four hour days filled by the constant demands of others.
Our narrator is tough and likeable, and her humour and intelligence see her through. Spin Cycle covers just one week of her hectic life, and there are some wonderfully funny lines and events, and a great cast of characters.
CJ (Christine Jain) is a tough, angelic-looking five-year-old with a devilish way of manipulating facts; Ben, thirteen, is quiet and awkward; and Samantha, "seventeen going on twenty", currently favours cod-German exclamations, a Joan Crawford drawl, and is campaigning for a belly-button ring. All are fairly normal kids, with the usual sibling rivalries, squabbles and loyalties, and the unerring knack all kids have for divining parental weaknesses and guilt and working on them mercilessly to gain their own ends. Mother and sisters Diane and "Bloody Elizabeth" support and intrude and play their parts. And friends, work-mates, ex-husbands, ex-mothers-in-law all add to the chaos.
Ilsa Evans is excellent at dialogue, good at controlling slap-stick comedy situations, and has a great sense-of-humour. Only occasionally do situations verge on TV sitcom idiocy, mostly at the start of the book as the author gets into her stride. In that arresting opening paragraph we learn that the narrator has a therapist, and whilst we are digesting the existence of this piece of expensive indulgence we learn that our narrator is sitting ON TOP of her washing machine in her laundry in a search for a quiet spot in which to think. However, the therapist is soon sacked and things become less ridiculous—or rather the idiocy is more believable, given the sane character of the narrator and the understandable but unpredictable nature of events. Generally, Ilsa Evans, like her narrator, keeps things under control.
I liked this narrator. I liked her fighting-spirit, her quick-thinking, her love and concern for her children and her ability to see the funny side of near-disasters. Clearly this is a book which will appeal most to women in their thirties or older. But anyone who has brought up children will empathize with the narrator's feelings and recognize the situations she gets herself into, even if they themselves are not divorced and don't have ex-husbands and a close family to deal with.
Spin Cycle is a very good first novel. It is light, enjoyable reading. It also has a realistic and hopeful ending which leaves you feeling that with a bit of humour you, too, can cope with the demands and chaos of family life.