Author: Dawn O’Porter
Rating: 5 Stars
Dates read: 25 Oct 19 – 01 Nov 19
Publication date: 31 Oct 2019
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre(s): Contemporary, feminism, mental health
IS ANYONE’S LIFE . . .
Beth shows that women really can have it all.
Ruby lives life by her own rules.
And then there’s Lauren, living the dream.
AS PERFECT AS IT LOOKS?
Beth hasn’t had sex in a year.
Ruby feels like she’s failing.
Lauren’s happiness is fake news.
And it just takes one shocking event to make the truth come tumbling out…
*I was given an eARC of this book courtesy of Harper Collins and NetGalley in exchange for an honest and fair review*
There are times when you read a book and you have no idea what it’s about and have taken a punt because the author is famous and you like them, and because the cover is really cool, and this was one of those occasions. This book was an exquisite piece of fiction that encapsulated what it is like to be a woman in the 21st century, and how no matter who you are, why you are, what you is happening and what you see can be very different. It was heart breaking and heart warming in equal measure and showed the power of women, both the positive and negative.
The book follows the perspective of two mothers, Ruby and Beth, as they negotiate motherhood, work, and relationships, while dealign with their own insecurities and problems. As we track their stories, we’re also treated to an external view of a third woman, Lauren, whose Instagram ideal lifestyle and impending nuptials provide a backdrop and timeline for the book’s narrative. Each woman’s life and lifestyle is vastly different, and the way we see each really carries a message about shown life versus true life.
Let’s start with Ruby. She is a complex character who suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and the associated affliction of excess body hair. She is the mother to a young daughter Bonnie, and her strained relationship with her emotionally manipulative and abusive mother has left her with a complex about herself and about her life as a mother. She doesn’t connect well with Bonnie and is jealous of Bonnie’s relationship with her Dad Liam. Her struggle is heartbreaking and was fascinating to watch as she grew. Meeting Ross in the park really opened her mind to her familial relationships and her growing bond with her daughter, which was heartbreaking to read about at first, become one of the warmest aspects of the book for me. I thought her self loathing was awful and all too familiar, and her battle with dealing with her negative body image whilst working within the photo retouching business was a painful duality to read about. I really like that she had found someone initially in Liam, and like that her insecurities were the basis for their split, but later their growth.
And Beth, I loved Beth. Her and Risky has a special working and friendship bond and were hilarious to track. There sexual frankness and body positivity was actually quite inspiring, and even though I really didn’t like the relationship between Beth and her husband Michael (in fact, I really hated it) I felt like she was a really great character. She was so different to Ruby, she was open enough to breastfeed at work, she thoroughly enjoyed being a mother, and she had a relationship with the father that was deeply flawed in a completely different way to Ruby and Liam. Although Risky was beyond deeply inappropriate at points, there unusual working and personal relationship was a real show of female diversity and force, and I loved that together they had forged to create a successful business together. Her brief encounter with Ross was pretty heartbreaking and born from a place of desperation, and he navigated that with an aplomb that I really respect O’Porter for giving to one of the male characters.
I thought the most interesting person was Lauren. Lauren appears at the end of chapters in the form of an Instagram post, associated caption, and a mix of positive and negative reviews. We see Ruby begin to interact with her world as a photo editor, asked to assist at Lauren’s upcoming wedding to a famous (and loathsome/controlling) businessman, ready to touch up their big days photos to fulfil a social media obligation to a champagne company sponsoring her big day. We also see Beth interacting with Lauren as her wedding planner. I think he dichotomy was absolutely spectacular, and actually made you question Lauren’s character and motive and then in turn your own. Her personal portrayal on social media, carefully planned, orchestrated, and edited, provided a very glossy and impersonal image. Her want to edit and touch photos for her big day gave the impression of someone unhappy and desperate to change themselves to conform to a publicly expected image. Then we see Beth interact with her, we see her smile and laugh one on one, and cower in on herself when her mother and her husband to be are present.
I feel like this book absolutely embodies the idea of not judging a woman, or in fact anyone, by their cover. Partly because we’re complex, partly because you don’t know what someone has been through or is showing you, it shows that all women are judging themselves and choosing the front they put on to the ones closest to them, and to the wider world. I found bits of this book really hard to read (in a good way) because it struck very close to home, and I feel like that would ring true for anyone that reads it. I like that O’Porter made all of the characters, whether main or side, complex and flawed. They had their moment where things, and characters, all come together in a powerful way, and had enough uplifting moments that the harder moments to read were worth it.
This book expertly navigates the complexities of being a woman in the modern world. It really embodies the idea that we shouldn’t judge others (by what we see, what we hear, what we feel) and should just strive to be better versions of ourselves because that will ultimately help. It battled feminism and mental health in a really positive and constructive way and was a great example of being supportive instead of instructive. I really think it shows that idea that we (as humans, as women) are actually judging ourselves more harshly than anyone else and showed that theory that no-one else is looking at you because everyone is too busy thinking everyone is looking down on them I can’t recommend this emotional rollercoaster of a book highly enough.