12 November 2009

Book Review: The Dilemmas of Harriet Carew by Cristina Odone

Harriet Carew is struggling to juggle all of her commitments, be it financial, family or job and its stressing her out. Her and her husband Guy are determined to send their boys to the local private school, but are finding it hard to pay the fees. Consequently, Harriet finds herself at work more to earn some pennies while hubby Guy is being wooed by BBC to turn his books into TV documentaries.

But Harriet's past comes back to surprise her in the form of her ex-boyfriend James who's now a rather wealthy businessman. Is Harriet going to be attracted by what could have been, or will she stay with financially struggling Guy and their family?

According to the first couple of pages, Cristina Odone originally wrote the character of Harriet Carew for the Daily Telegraph newspaper in a series of columns called "Posh and Poor". The column was so well received that she was commissioned to write a book about Harriet, and this is the result. Now, I've never read either the Telegraph or Odone's column so I didn't know what to expect from either thing, but I presumed it must be quite good for a book to have come out of it. I therefore looked forward to good characters and a good writing style, and while I was satisfied on one account, the other sadly left me cold and somewhat annoyed by the time I finished my book.

My problem with the book certainly doesn't lie with the writing of the book. Odone writes in a likeable and easy to read way, and I found the story moved at a good pace which kept me interested. My real gripe with the book was just the story and the characters. To be honest, it's all about how hard life is when you have to scrimp and save to send your children to private school, everything else including the leak in the roof takes lower priority and your best friend is moving across to Chelsea to have another baby. It is a really shallow story, and it did leave me wondering why I should bother caring about Harriet and her self-inflicted money woes. Sure, we'd all love our children to have the best education but for most of us, state schools are the answer, and are a good one too. This book seems to slag off these free educational establishments in favour of posh ludicriously expensive private schools, and I think its wrong.

As I mentioned, the characterisation in the book was good, but I just couldn't care for their "dilemmas" and therefore found it hard to care about them as well. Harriet's husband Guy is probably the worst of the lot - totally selfish and determined to send his boys to private school, never mind the cost of it in all senses. I hated his character so much, I almost decided to skip the scenes with him in but didn't as I didn't want to miss anything. Harriet's colleagues were okay characters, but didn't appear much so again I don't feel like I cared about them because I didn't know them enough. Harriet's best friend was hilarious, probably the best character in the book simply because she was so unrealistic and daft, she did provide some much needed comic relief in the book, but its sad that only one character appealed to me out of all of them.

The premise of the story sounded like it could be a good one, but sadly it just fell flat for me because of the way the characters just do not at all endear themselves to the reader. You can't feel sorry for their predicament because its all brought on themselves, and in this time of financial recession, its really not the sort of thing that I want to be reading about. Harriet and her family were well written, but still I couldn't stand them and felt them to be selfish, unlikeable and just not nice people really. I am sure there will be people out there, particularly fans of Odone's columns, that will like this but I'm not a fan and won't hurry to read any more stories about the awful Carews.

Rating: 2/5


  1. Hear hear! Great review. What a refreshing outlook. I thought nobody thought the same way I did about this. :)

  2. I really hate those snobby books that bang on about private school too, as if it's something every parent aspires to. I'd rather my kids went to an ordinary state school thanks, than one with lots of pampered snobs!