17 November 2009

Book Review: Once In A Lifetime by Cathy Kelly

The town of Ardagh in Ireland loves its local department store, Kenny's, run by David Kenny. But things to do with the people aren't all rosy. David's wife Ingrid, a politics TV Presenter is juggling her family life and work life, but she soon unearths a secret that will shatter her world. Kenny's employee Natalie is starting to question her father about her long-deceased mother, and finds out some shocking revelations that rock her. Charlie Fallon, a make-up guru at Kenny's is in despair at her rocky relationship with her mother, but loves her own husband and son. She's determined to make it right with her mother, but are they both too stubborn? And finally, Star Bluestone who provides tapestries for the store, holds the knowledge to help all these women in their hours of need. Star knows how important it is to these women to find closure... but will they let her provide it?

Cathy Kelly is a very popular Irish author, and amazingly this is the 11th book she has released. She's been writing since 1997, but since I was only 11 years old then, I've only just really got into her work, my first Kelly novel being her previous release, Lessons in Heartbreak (reviewed of course). I wasn't overly impressed but hoped that this one would be more enjoyable for me. When I read the blurb, I wasn't too sure as it sounded like a lot of characters and would therefore require a bit more concentration that I liked to give a book but still I was willing to give it a real go and head into it with an open mind. It was a rather chunky book, so was one that would take me a while, and consequently give me a chance to really get into it.

When I started the book, it really wasn't the modern tale of a department store that I had expected straight away. Instead, we were introduced to white-witch Star, and I really struggled to get into the book at all. If I am honest, I did think about putting it down because usually I don't persevere with it because I have so many others to read, but I decided to give it a chance for some reason. When the book got going a bit more, I found the read sort of flowed better and I very much liked the characters that were being introduced, especially Ingrid and Natalie who were interesting, modern and had great stories to read about. Although she appeared in the book's prologue, we don't see all that much of Star in the book (good for me because I didn't like her) but you can see her importance as the book progresses, which is all due to Kelly's writing talent.

After doing a bit of research on her other novels, it seems Kelly's novels are all about women and their relationships, be it with their husbands, mothers or other family. She's stuck to what she knows here, but perhaps too much because when discussing this book with my mum, she told me it felt too much like something Kelly has written before - fine if it's one of your first Cathy Kelly books like me, but for my mum and nan who are long-time readers, they feel a bit cheated and weren't all that convinced it was a good, fresh story. The story was well written, don't get me wrong on that part, but as with all chick-lit to a degree, it was quite predictable as to how it was going to progress. One strand of storyline kept me guessing because not enough was revealed to guess the answer, but it wasn't enough to really keep my interest in the book at its peak, and at times I felt I was just reading it to get to the end as quickly as possible.

The characterisation in the book was very good - Kelly really gets into the hearts of characters and puts on paper perfectly what you expect them to be feeling. There aren't all that many relationships in the book to build on, mainly as they involve characters that aren't around in the book, but the few that are there are realistic and enjoyable to read. Kelly writes in the third person, making it easy to switch between the amount of characters in the book. As mentioned, my favourites were Ingrid, the strong, business-savvy TV presenter and Natalie who is without a mother. Charlie annoyed me in ways but I did feel sorry for her, and as I said I really didn't like Star, although I can't put my finger on why. You would expect an author of Kelly's history to write well, and yes she does, but the book just didn't grip me like so many young and more vibrant writers do these days.

If I'm honest, I don't think I'll be looking to pick up another Cathy Kelly book in a hurry. My mum has told me to read some of her earlier books because they are far better, and I will when I have the time, but I won't hurry to get her new ones in the future. It is a well written book with good, realistic characters but for me it seemed to drag on and on, without an end in sight. There didn't seem to be an aim to reach and without that, the story sort of tended to amble on and on, often dipping into the past of certain characters to reveal some new storylines but even they weren't enough to renew my interest. For fans of Cathy Kelly, you'll probably still want to read this and may enjoy it, but if you're not a fan, don't rush to read this, there's much better out there.

Rating: 2/5


  1. Someone bought me this for my birthday and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since! I have never read any of her books as she just hasn't appealed. Like you say though if it is your first Cathy Kelly book then maybe it won't be so bad!

  2. I LOVED this book!! Its my 6th CK book to read and if i'm honest, this was the best - i feel she gets better with every book! Maybe because, like her, i'm Irish and I believe Irish authors are really fantastic...Marian Keyes, Melissa Hill, Sheila O' Flanagan, Claire Allan - the list could go on and on but Cathy Kelly is well up there with them and I thought this was one of her best!