I think I’m reaching the conclusion that so-called ‘women’s fiction’ is not really for me. This is a shame as I don’t like to think of any kind of fiction being somehow ‘beyond me’. Yet I’ve read several of Kate Hewitt’s novels now and despite the fact that she writes well. the plots flow nicely, the characters are believable and the settings just happen to be ones I know very well indeed (as I live in the same village where Kate Hewitt lived for many years) I still really don’t ‘get it’.
Part of this must surely be that all her books focus on women, their world and their thoughts. As a guy, some elements of this will of course remain alien to me. But I’ve read many, many books written by women about, or strongly featuring, the thoughts and feelings of females and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them and been moved by the stories and characters. So what’s the difference?
It’s very possible that the answer lies not in a weakness but in the strength of Hewitt’s writing: her novels are about ordinary women in ordinary worlds (which are mostly northern British). There’s no great calamity, no exceptional circumstance, no great historical event. These novels tackle everyday life with its range of very real challenges. In ‘A Mother Like Mine’ we have a woman estranged from her grown-up daughter (who is also a single mother) coming ‘home’ after many years living a glamorous lifestyle in the US. The story looks at loss, ageing, broken dreams, abuse, single parenting, grief, love, friendship and more – all without melodrama or cheesy ‘all is forgiven’ endings.
Indeed, there’s even many loose ends and some things which don’t fit comfortably or prove to be a little pointless (for instance, the whole friction between Laura and her brother which looked to be building to something but then simply didn’t). This is a common feature of many modern novels and it can often work. I think it mostly does so with Hewitt’s story but not always. Thankfully, however, there’s no gushing emotion turning a problem into a melodrama – actually, the whole book is remarkably ‘British’ in its reserve; well done to the author for that!
In the end though, I found the book a little bit of a slog to get through and though it picked up quite well towards the end I still found that when the book finished I honestly didn’t care. This is my golden test for an excellent novel: Do I care about the characters enough that I don’t want the story to end? In this particular case I’m afraid the answer was: No. Laura and Abby can carry on in Hartley-By-The-Sea and I won’t feel the urge to pop into their world for a bit any time soon.
But I have to reiterate again – I think I just don’t get women’s fiction. This may well be a wonderfully delightful book for someone else; it just doesn’t hit the spot for me. I’m not outraged by themes or ethics, I don’t scoff at the situations or characters, I don’t find fault with the language or plotting technique. I simply wasn’t moved by the plight of the characters nor their developing relationship.
I will say this for the novel however: The author is brave! As I said, I live in the same village where the author spent many years and I know the places she fictionalises very well. At times, her use of places and people is jaw-dropping and I wonder how she managed to get away with it. For most of the time there is only a thin veneer of ‘fiction’ to disguise this and anyone from the west coast of Cumbria would surely know exactly where Harley-By-The-Sea really is and where the scenes take place. I suspect not a few people purchase Hewitt’s books simply to check they’re not in the stories themselves – or to check that they are! Like the enjoyment of the novel itself, it all depends on what takes your fancy.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org