Monday's book: The Trouble with Single Women Yvonne Roberts

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Single women are flavour of the month, and the media focus now falls on the female shirker. You sometimes wish that consumer novels could just accept this state of affairs rather than worrying it to death as a theme. There's a creeping conformity to the astonishment, in recent books, at social trends which only mean that this generation's lifestyles do not imitate their parents'. Chances for imaginative solutions are often overlooked for tedious musings on the pursuit of Mr Right and nail-biting angst about the pursuit of 1950s ideals.

Yvonne Roberts at least takes an interrogative approach and, with her media-wise concerns, takes on board how women are packaged and sold back to one another. Feminine rather than girly, the novel's concerns aren't merely neurotic.

Fee Travers is in her thirties. Single, gainfully employed and doubtful about the ethics of her work in marketing, she worries about men, creeping mortality, what next, and all that. She has a few easy affairs with men that don't quite hit the spot. But her peer group is littered with enough marriage casualties of both sexes to ward off any lurking nostalgia for the customs of the past.

This is a psychology-driven novel about where we now stand in relationships. There's an easy camaradie between the women that counts as a kind of sisterhood- lite, neither cloying nor unlikely, in which independence and connection co-exist.

The incidents that take place - separation, infidelity, downsizing, the creation of small businesss - are all timely, but the plotting and writing don't have quite enough impact to obliterate the shadows of recent surveys or outshine the average lifestyle-piece in a magazine.

The language is uncharged and, while the characters lead modern lives, there isn't the zip that you might find in similar themes handled by US authors such as Terry McMillan or Cynthia Heimel. This is a very matter- of-fact novel. There's no reason why it should appear in the form of a book rather than, say, a TV mini-series.

The wish to settle down in a pair-bond is seen as a social pressure as much as an inner need. Roberts avoids the happy ending to settle on a new beginning, more bittersweet than ecstatic. Yet male characters in male novels never seem to grapple with their sexual and social identity to quite the extent that women do. Is this legitimate stuff, or just more pap through which we have to cleave a path? Is the women's novel ready to move on? The Trouble with Single Women is one of a kind, but agreeable enough on its own modest terms.

Published by Pan, pounds 9.99

Chris Savage King

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