Long gone are the days where young people set out from home on adventures supremely confident that the same domestic structures will necessarily remain intact while they are away. In this story the family itself and its survival has now become the focus for the main action. Its main character, the ferociously outspoken teenage Scarlet, is determined to discover why her 43-year-old mother has left her dull but sweet-natured husband. Although at least half her class at school have already experienced family break-up ‘sometimes twice over’, nothing has prepared her for this change in her own domestic life.
Anne Fine is merciless in pointing out how painful such separations can prove to everyone, particularly offspring. But she also makes it clear that there can usually be no way of going back. Scarlet eventually has to accept that parents have rights to their own lives just as their children do. Looking for blame is tempting, but ultimately gets no-one anywhere. Scarlet’s parents are human, not monsters. They both love her and even each other yet still their marriage has ultimately come unstuck beyond repair.
Fine is an old hand at describing different variations of family mayhem, and this novel is well up to her past high standards. The blackly comic mind-games played between Scarlet and her mother, each determined to have the last word, are truly something to behold. Sub-plots involving a best friend, a baby and a potential boyfriend offer temporary respite from their epic battles, but ultimately this is a story about mother and daughter fighting it out each in their own way as one climactic row follows hard on the next. Sometimes exhausting but more often exhilarating, this is a brilliant as well as a timely novel.