I was completely wrong-footed by the cover of this book, which, channelling Beryl Cooke, the renowned painter of middle-aged women (complete with middle-age spread), suggested to me that this was going to be gently poking fun at ladies of a certain age who over-indulge in cake. Or perhaps, given the title, each of these short stories was going to provide the indulgence and satisfaction of a cream cake without the calories or the guilt?
I’d barely begun reading the first story when I realised I was in for something quite different, but much more subtle and wide-ranging.
In nine very different short stories (plus one poem, that might serve better as a preface than falling in the midst of the prose), Rosalind Minett examines the lives of a wide cast of female characters as they seek happiness in their relationships with men.
It’s a bittersweet mix, often sad and poignant, but the key characters (of various ages) usually emerge with some kind of triumph by the end of the story, though often in an unexpected way, and not always entirely happily. Nonetheless each of these tales is a tribute to the strength of women facing adversity and determined to survive against all the odds.
So it turned out these stories were a treat, after all: interesting, clever, and wise, exploring what shapes the girls into the women they become, and conjuring up their worlds and world views in succinct and clever prose. There are often flashes of humour and wit, but the overall themes and mood area serious – I’d call it a wry book rather than a funny one, though there a few laugh-out loud moments and some air-punchingly clever turns of phrase.
As an author of short story collections myself, I know it’s always intriguing for the author to know which stories readers like best, so I’ll tell you which get my vote: “Underwhelmed”, a bittersweet story about a spinster who never gives up hope of meeting a man, and “Blind Date”, the tale of a teenager who gains an object lesson in overcoming prejudices.
The poem half way through took me by surprise, the only non-prose piece throughout, and if the author were ever to consider a second edition, I’d suggest using the poem as a preface. It also ties in nicely with the title.
Neither the title nor the strapline seemed the obvious choice to me, once I’d read the stories, and I’d hate to think of readers who don’t fall into other categories than “mature women and curious men” not bothering to pick this book up, thinking it wasn’t for them.
But I did really like the format of the book – very small and neat, slipping nicely into a pocket or handbag to read on the commute or in the doctor’s waiting room.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and thought about it for long after I’d read the final page. I’ll definitely be reading more by Rosalind Minett, whose voice really clicked with me. Highly recommended!
POSTSCRIPT – September 2016
I’m pleased to report that Rosalind Minett has now released a second edition with a cover more appropriate to its sophisticated, insightful content.