Never walk with a hot drink in your hand; never leave the house without lipstick; never throw away a good man: these are just some of the maternal mantras percolating in Ros Bloch's head a year on from her mother's death. Adding to her current woes are the end of her marriage, two sons on the brink of leaving home and, at 45, the prospect of "her own inevitable descent from her prime".
Sharing much in common with her amusing debut, Mrs Zhivago of Queen's Park, Olivia Lichtenstein's second novel is a frank satire of a middle-aged Londoner on the brink. Looking for answers, Ros turns to Internet dating, naked yoga and most rashly of all, an ill-advised experiment with an intimate tint.
When consolation arrives it comes not in a man-shaped package, but in the form of a letter. Courtesy of an old family friend, Ros is sent a copy of her mother's posthumous diaries – entries that throw new light on her parent's South African childhood and life with the fledgling ANC. Ros is forced to revise her opinion of her demanding "semi-Jewish" mother and allow room for forgiveness: "Just because a relationship is complicated doesn't mean you don't mourn it when it's gone."
A confident writer, Lichtenstein deftly moves between mother and daughter, Cape Town and Shepherd's Bush. This of-the-moment comedy breezily puts the world to rights in the way only good popular fiction can.