A Different Type of Review - Chris Palmer on Writers and Lovers by Lily King



Lily King



ISBN 978-1-5290-3310-6


324 pages


‘Come on Chris, you know that’s not good enough’

‘Yes, I know, but this time it’s not easy.’

‘Get on with it. A takeaway’s coming in ten minutes.’

The second Saturday in June, nearly three months into the lockdown. Our Ipad is propped against the salt and pepper pots on the kitchen table. It’s our regular weekly meeting on Skype with long-standing friends. Once again, we have struggled miserably with the Guardian Magazine Quiz. We are now at the stage of ‘what we have read this week’. Paul and Rosemary are shielding. Remember how that word took on a new, almost sinister meaning? They just stay indoors. Helping with the grandchildren’s education by FaceTime in the morning, reading all afternoon, box sets and films in the evening.

Why am I so reticent about this novel?

It has surreptitiously wormed its insidious way into my brain, and I feel a strong emotional attachment to both the book and, in particular, to the lead character, Casey.

‘You know the rules.’

Three features about it and then marks out of ten. That formula stopped any of us ‘going on about’ a particular book. Paul and Rosemary are buying and reading so obsessively that they have become a one family campaign to save their local bookshop. My worry is that Rosemary will buy my book and tell me, as she frequently asserts of some female characters ‘I just wanted to give her a slap.’ Casey can be self-obsessed and irritating. As can many people I know.

‘Who is Lily King?’ they ask. I acknowledge that this American novelist with four previously published novels is new to me. Her back catalogue beckons me.

Maybe because there are so few books about the process of trying to write your first novel, this book struck a particular nerve. My friends are unaware of the manuscript nestling in my desk’s bottom drawer like a guilty secret. They, of course, know that, like Casey, my mother died earlier this year.

If I describe it as a love triangle between an impecunious, grief-stricken thirty year old writer, an older, reliable and successful widowed novelist with two young children and a younger, slightly feckless but charismatic younger writer I will put Paul off. He would in any case be deterred by its uncertain, slightly underwhelming start. Paul only gives a new book fifty pages.

I relent.

‘Fair enough. One – After a slow start this is a smart, funny, touching novel about an aspiring writer trying to finish her first novel and at the same time choose between two, contrasting suitors. Two- It has credible characters and smart dialogue. Three – It features a funny and exciting round of mini-golf as well as a sexy game of chess. Nine and a half out of Ten.’

When I completed the final page of this contemporary, fluently written and compulsive novel, I felt replete but also sad. I was saying goodbye to a close friend. I nervously awaited the verdict of my friends.

Chris was born and brought up in Essex and went to school in Ipswich. He obtained an honours degree in Medieval and Modern History at St. Andrews University. After a 30 year legal career in private practice in Lancashire, specialising in family law, Chris retrained as a person-centred counsellor obtaining a diploma at Preston College. He is currently a voluntary counsellor at Ayrshire hospice. He is married to Pat, a retired teacher and has two children who live and work in London. He is a past president of Ayr Writers' Club. Despite every attempt to give up, he remains a life-long supporter of Spurs.

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