Books: Independent choice

Fresh-start fiction by Judy Cooke
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Indy Lifestyle Online
As her husband rocked between Daisy's slim thighs, Celia slowly stirred a pan of scrambled eggs." You know where you are with a storyline like that and, in Concerning Lily by Sally Brampton (Heinemann, pounds 16.99), it's a studio in Camden Town, latest location for the Hampstead novel. Adultery, divorce and bewildered children still sustain the central theme but property prices have shifted the action south.

A simple plot links three friends, Daisy, Bella and Elisabeth, all looking for a sense of purpose in middle age. Daisy is getting tired of being a mistress. Bella sees her own marriage as all important yet is unable to stop herself destroying it. Elisabeth has two children away at school and complains of "the emptiness of space". Out of curiosity she responds to an advertisement for a wedding dress, "Never Worn. pounds 250", and so meets Lily, apparently a jilted bride, actually a predator. Patronised by the charmed circle, Lily acquires some of the gloss that only money can buy, along with a lover or two. The women she steals from are complacent, thick, over 40; they get the sentimental education they deserve. A savage entertainment, and not one for Mother's Day.

Tasting Salt (The Women's Press, pounds 9), a slow-paced Australian novel by Stephanie Dowrick, could hardly be more of a contrast. A celebration of women befriending women, it harks back to Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, being a lengthy conversation about sex and motherhood between Cordelia, in her seventies, and the much younger Laurie. Both are potters, and there is a pleasant intimacy about the domestic detail of their lives.

Cordelia's husband, George, suffers a heart attack. She faces a new role philosophically: a widow, without children, vulnerable to critics who suggest her marriage was not as good as it seemed. Laurie has two children by a gay husband. Discovering her own homosexuality is a liberation as much as a burden. The book is optimistic, a meditation on the Buddhist teaching that freedom, like salt, is an essential element and within the characters' grasp.

Back in London with Wendy Perriam's less than credible Second Skin (Flamingo, pounds 17.99) and another investigation into what women want and how they cope. It begins at the Jones' party to celebrate their silver wedding; Gerry kisses his wife, Catherine, in front of the guests, "arousing her shamelessly with the sea-anemone distractions of his mouth". Kate, their daughter, telephones from India. Andrew and Antonia, judgemental son and daughter- in-law, hand round the cake. Wouldn't you know it, a few hours later Gerry collapses and dies. Catherine has the briefest of respites before learning that her husband has left her with a pile of debts. She rebels: eats a chocolate mousse intended for a dinner party, and buys a jumpsuit and platform boots. Heading for trouble, and a book launch, she fulfils one of the basic rules of the genre: a merry widow is attractive, especially to younger men.

Befriended by an amiable crew of bright young things in the media, Catherine moves from Croydon to share their flat in Camden Town. But innocence is betrayed. Catherine is soon worrying about Aids; she helps out on a market stall, gets lured into a rave, falls in love with a poet and lives independently ever after. In Hackney. Who could believe it?

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