1 September 2011

Book Review: The Importance of Being Myrtle by Ulrika Jonsson

Is a death in the family the chance for a new start? When Myrtle's husband, Austin, dies on the bus one morning, everything seems to freeze. But in reality Myrtle has been frozen for nearly forty years, locked into an emotionless marriage. So if the barriers have been lifted, why does she still feel trapped? Her daughters are a mystery to her - one prickly and defensive, the other with a closely guarded secret. And thanks to Austin's cold presence, friends are a rarity. How is a widow supposed to find herself when she's alone and unconfident of her place in the world? But hope might rest with Gianni, the kind stranger in whose arms Austin died. And when nosy neighbour Dorothy discovers Myrtle's sad news, she also refuses to let her wallow. But Myrtle will never move on until she's dealt with her past and the reason for her devotion to Austin. The truth must out, even though the consequences might prove devastating for Myrtle and her daughters ...

Celebrity novels are one of those types of books where it's either really good (Sharon Osborne, Coleen Nolan), a bit middle-of-the-road, nothing to write home about (Fern Britton) or downright rubbish (Katie Price, Kay Burley). Therefore when I was offered the opportunity to receive a copy of Ulrika Jonsson's new fiction title, I was a bit wary but decided to give it a go. I haven't read her autobiography so don't know anything of her writing style, but have been informed by the publishers that Ulrika has indeed written this herself, with no help from a ghost-writer at all. After hearing that, I was sold on giving it a go, despite the dreariness of the original cover. It's since been updated with some pinks and yellows to brighten it slightly but it's still nothing to write home about really!

I have to admit that overall, I found the book realy depressing and it was a bit of a struggle to pick it up and carry on reading as there seemed to be no end to misery and suffering of the characters within. It starts with the death of Myrtle's husband Austin, a man who ruled with an iron fist and has Myrtle living to his every word. It's a pretty sad existence that Myrtle has, and you can't help but feel so sorry for the woman who hasn't been allowed to think for herself for forty years, but also wonder why the heck she didn't see what he was doing to her long ago. Then there are her two daughters, Beth and Gillian, two very different women and again, fairly depressing characters. Beth's hiding a secret from her parents, but it's obvious to the reader what it is - at least I guessed it straight away before it was revealed. Gillian is a bit of a tyrant, treating her husband Geoffrey and daughter Molly badly because she needs to have order and quiet around her. I found her so dislikeable, and really hated how she treated her husband. Beth was a bit more likeable, at least compared to her sister, but I couldn't find myself really liking her at all either.

Gianni was probably the most likeable character of the lot. The Aussie-Italian is a bit of light relief compared to the rest of the book, the only character I remember reading about with a smile on his face. Thank goodness for him or it would have been complete misery. Overall, it's a small but functional set of characters that aren't exactly memorable, and after reading it, I really can't at all understand the 'importance of being Myrtle', rather the importance of NOT being her is more likely! There are a few flashbacks in the book, back to Myrtle's youth when she is introduced to Austin but also conducting an affair of her own which allows us to see the true Myrtle before she became bogged down with her marriage, and it's quite heart-breaking for the most part, and just added to the miserable life that Myrtle has led, not being able to choose anything for her self, even then.

Jonsson's writing is nothing overly impressive, but it's not as bad as some celebrity novels I've had the misfortune to read lately. I found for me it was too narrative heavy - I would have liked to read more interactions between the characters, especially between Myrtle and her daughters as I felt these were too few and far between really. The narrative did tend to go on a bit and I found myself wanting to take a break from it a bit too often. I found the start was extremely slow as well, it was quite a while before I felt that the book really got going and it was a bit of a struggle to perservere with it further, although I wanted to see how it would progress. I think with a bit more focus and tighter editing, Jonsson could be a good novelist, but at the moment, there are many things she needs to improve before attempting a second outing. The story is good enough to keep up the pace of the book, unfolding secrets as the book progresses, but with unlikeable characters, a slow start and misery hanging over you throughout every page, it's a book I am uncertain will be ranked high in the celebrity novelists lists.

Rating: 2.5/5


  1. I can't even be bothered giving this a go....the boring synopsis was to much for me.
    Kay burley.....il never get that day back or watch sky news in the same light.
    Learned from my mistake.....sorry Ulrika have to pass!!!

  2. Am so sick and tired of 'celebrities' being published simply because the publishers can put a famous name on the cover. My bet is that a huge majority of people who buy the book (therefore making the publishers their money)will then abandon it before the end when they see it's mediocre and badly edited. It is so discouraging for non famous writers who struggle even to get a foot through a publisher's door.