Published by Choc Lit and also available on Amazon, in paperback and Kindle versions.
Tess Riddell, accomplished illustrator, has been dumped by rat, Olly Gray, a few days before her wedding. Afterwards she ‘starts over’ by moving to the cosily-named Honeybun Cottage in the village of Middledip, where she knows nobody. On her way there, she manages to drive into the back of the breadkdown truck of another rat, the local garage-owner, Miles Rattenbury, commonly known as ‘Ratty’. The story that follows revolves around the relationship of Tess and Ratty, with ex, Olly, appearing occasionally to mess things up.
‘Starting Over’ was a very competently written novel by an expert in the women’s fiction field. Sue describes compulsively, often devoting a whole page to a room which only figures in the novel once; this technique is very effective because it sets the scene and encapsulates a character and situation. She did this for Carola by delineating all her hand-hooked rugs, embroideries… and many other things… in her living room. She gets inside her characters in the same way, bringing the reader into the scene so that she (This is definitely a book for ‘shes’) feels she is there. Get the detail in this, for instance: “He ate an apple, she watched the square whiteness of his teeth crunching through the rosy peel and into the flesh.” And this: “Other passengers’ rocking faces were reflected in the glass when they entered the tunnel, colours of hair, of skin. Shoppers, teenagers with personal stereos, a loud scruff in his twenties leering and making women uncomfortable.”
The sex scenes were phenomenal, detailed, lingering, containing unusual details, and absolutely no cliches. So why did I skim through them? I think it was because – to use a cliche now – they got too up close and personal. I felt I was learning things about the characters that I sensed were private. This, of course, raises a big question, of how close the reader ought to get to characters. Most of us would, instinctively, say absolutely as close as possible, nothing barred, but the sex scenes in ‘Starting Over’ did cause me to question this viewpoint. Sue also went into a lot of medical detail about mc’s miscarriage and menstrural problems – again, I felt, too much information.
I have to confess I much preferred ‘Love and Freedom’ by Sue, which I read a few months ago. A large part of the charm of ‘Love and Freedom’ was its sense of place, being firmly set amongst the seaside resorts along the south coast of England, Rottingdean in particular and also Brighton, which Sue clearly knows well, because her accounts were very accurate, but the location in England of the village of Middledip in’Starting Over’ was unclear. Although towards the end of the book we get the impression that it was somewhere near the Fens, the author doesn’t put down firm roots. Moreover, I didn’t warm to the male lead, Ratty, who was, I feel, the sort of man most women would avoid, convinced he is God’s gift and what Bridget Jones would call ‘committment phobic’.
As a writer, I assimilated a great deal from this book, particularly about descriptions of settings and characters. I hope I can apply all I have learned.