31 May 2009

Book Review: Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson

Nova and Mal have been best friends since, well, forever really. They grew up together and Nova thought they'd end up together as well.

But when Mal met Stephanie, he fell in love and married her. The couple have a big favour to ask Nova - will she have a baby for them? Nova agrees but when the couple suddenly decide they don't want their baby anymore, Nova is left feeling frightened, alone and unsure she can be a single mother.

Flicking from the past to the present day, Nova's son's life hangs in the balance, and so does Mal and Stephanie's marriage. Can both survive?

The blurb in itself suggests that this is going to be an emotional read, as are all of Dorothy Koomson's novels. The main idea focuses on the issue of surrogacy, which isn't an issue I've ever read about in a fictional book before. Surrogacy is something I know I could never do, I couldn't grow a baby only to give it away the end and this theme is well-explored by Koomson, showing us Nova's thoughts about the idea and how she comes to the decisions she eventually reaches. But the most important part of the surrogacy issue in this book is how it changes the relationships of those involved, right from finding out the surrogate mother is pregnant to the birth of the baby, and beyond.

I found the way that Koomson approached the whole issue was delicately done, and this really is a credit to her writing skill and indeed style. The whole background for the story was so well done that it really wasn't a shock to read about, and nothing too graphic was written about, the idea of the surrogacy really focussed on Nova and Mal's relationship, and the effect the surrogacy had on Stephanie, the outsider. Koomson really has a skill for writing well developed relationships between characters, and this was really a great element of the book. Koomson really knows how to engage her readers with an emotional storyline which has you hooked in minutes, and leaving you not able to put the book down again until its finished!

The characters themselves were very interesting too, with the main 2 characters of Nova and Mal being very detailed in background, emotion and story. The book flips between the present day and the past, right back to the childhood of the pair, and this allows you to get into the minds of both, particularly Nova as she is the storyteller for most of the book, and allows you to build up in your mind why things in the future (i.e. present day in the book) happen as they do. Mal's wife Stephanie was clearly meant to be the evil outsider, and right from the off I really didn't like her. How a woman can make her man choose between her and his child is beyond me, and for this I hated her instantly. Even towards the end when her past is fully revealed, I sympathised with her but didn't feel it justified what she had to done to Nova and Mal.

The writing style used in the book was quite interesting to me, partly because it left me feeling confused quite frequently throughout the book! Despite the fact that Koomson had chose to tell the story from both Stephanie and Nova's perspectives, so that's 2 storytellers, she's chosen to write in the first person without giving a name at the top of a new chapter to tell you who is narrating that particular section. I sometimes found I had to read almost 2 pages of a chapter before I got whether Nova or Stephanie were 'talking', and this left me frustrated and often confused. I always find first person narratives work best when there is only one storyteller as you can follow emotion and the story much better, but the 2 person first-person narrative just didn't work, it would have been much better in the third person!

Although I have found the previous Koomson reads of "Marshmallows for Breakfast" and "My Best Friend's Girl" quite uplifting, this one was quite the opposite, and I had a feeling all the way through that I might not get the happy ending I was hoping for. There wasn't much happiness throughout the book as a whole to be honest, what with unrequited love, mental illness, failed surrogacy and broken friendships being the main themes in the book. I was hoping for a small glimmer of happiness somewhere in the book, but there just seemed to be misery all around which left me feeling a bit drained after reading large chunks of the book. It's a shame Koomson didn't write just a chapter of something happy going on in the story, as this really lost the book a star on its rating from me. It was quite a depressing read, and I did find myself a bit teary at stages throughout, so it wasn't the light hearted chick-lit read I was hoping for! It is a very well-written story with interesting themes, great characters and a very easy to read style, but just a little depressing for me! I'd still recommend it to Koomson fans though, it is up to her usual writing standards. I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could, but I decided to round it up for writing and a good story.

Rating: 4/5

1 comment:

  1. I HATED this book, and after several reads (to see if my opinion changed!) I still can't work out why.

    Like you I found the narratives confusing, and would sometimes have to flip back to the beginning of the chapter when I figured out whom exactly was doing the talking!

    It is a well written book, and the theme is both interesting and original but I couldn't like Nova, Mal or Stephanie. Nova was a martyr, Mal was spineless and the less said about Steph, the better. I found myself not caring about the outcome.

    For me, something just didn't gel.