Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Forget about having it all. Sometimes you just want to leave it all behind.
Audrey is often seized by the urge to walk out of her house without looking back – but she can’t possibly do that.
She is a single parent. She is needed. She has a job, a home, responsibilities…and a slothful teenage son’s pants to pick up.
But no one likes being taken for granted – Audrey least of all – so the time has come for drastic action. And no one’s going to stand in her way…
This is the first book I have read by Fiona Gibson and it brought a smile to my face when I saw it as who couldn't fail to love such a clever title mixed with a colourful, fun and frivolous cover? The Woman Who Upped and Left is a light, easy read that at times will give you a warm feeling inside and plenty of laugh out loud moments. It's not serious or drab but instead full of humour mixed with some life lessons valuable for anyone be they young or old. This is a very quick read and I did enjoy it for what it was but I don't think it will be one that stands out for me when it comes to choosing my books of the year. It was perfect for the mood I was in at the time of reading and in answer to the tag line yes this book was ideal for escaping from it all for a few hours as we were swept up in the unpredictable life of school dinner lady Audrey. You would be forgiven for thinking this book was all about a woman who had enough with things going on in her life and she just abandoned everything and never came back but that is not the case. Once I got over the fact the book wasn't going to be about what I initially thought the plot would entail I accepted the plot line presented to us and embraced the all the goings on in Audrey's life.
Audrey is mum to 18 year old Morgan, a typical untidy teenager who although the apple of Audrey's eye he often drives her to distraction with his slovenly ways and lack of appreciation for all that she does for him. These days she barely gets more than a grunt in response to a question and cleaning up after himself is a concept that requires too much thinking time. Audrey really has had enough and wonders if she suddenly disappeared would he even notice her absence? Would he realise all that she actually does for him and has done since the moment he was born. Being a single mum wasn't easy but she did her best at all times and now feels surely it is time for a little bit of acknowledgement for the years she has accepted his laziness and attitude. But Morgan just prefers chilling with his girlfriend oblivious to the fact he really should get his act together and look for a proper job. Audrey feels totally taken for granted and is not pleased when Morgan can't even muster the energy to get her a birthday present. I mean she does work two jobs to keep their heads above water. She enjoys her work as a dinner lady but doesn't find it that fulfilling, and working as a carer for elderly Mrs. B is not all plain sailing. So when she wins dinner lady of the year as nominated by the pupils in her school she feels wow someone does value what I do and maybe things aren't that bad after all. The prize of a place on a cookery course in a fabulous hotel is not to be scoffed at but she wonders should she take the value of the prize in cash instead as there are innumerable things that need replacing in the house? Eventually she does what's best for her and goes on the course, a decision which will prove to be a changing point in her life and may give Morgan the kick up the backside he so needs.
When we first met Audrey I did think she needed to get a backbone and some strength and just confront her son, why should any woman be left clearing up after their son especially when he is now an adult? Her romantic life was a bit weird to be honest meeting Stevie in service station hotels up and down the motorway. Surely a woman deserves better than this? Something about this aspect of the plot niggled at me, was Stevie all he seemed? The story really picked up pace once Audrey arrives at the sumptuous hotel. It was different from anywhere she had been before and she soon begins to wonder is she cut out for this course especially when she meets some of the other participants who could practically run the course themselves. But she preserves and soon finds herself having a great time and making friends with Lottie, Tamara and co not to mention Hugo Fairchurch, looking for something new in his life following his divorce. It also helped that the chef running the course Brad Miller is quite dishy even though his attitude at times leaves a lot to be desired. Madness and mayhem and plenty of funny situations ensue over the days.
Fiona Gibson really showed her talent for humour and funny situations and it made the book flow well for the most part. I did think how could the author stretch out the remainder of the book based on the cookery course there really wasn't enough meat in it to sustain the remaining half of the novel but thankfully this wasn't what happened. I would have found the book boring just set at the hotel the whole time, there was only so much about preparing food I could read. Audrey despite having a good time at the course can't help worrying about Morgan at every opportunity especially when he will never answer his phone. So when she sees endless missed calls from him of course she goes running and now the book went in a different slant which at this point in the book it did need it.
Audrey really was a person who seemed to have lost her way and sense of self as she was so busy looking after everyone else’s needs instead of her own for so long. I wanted her to become stronger and not get walked all over by those who take her kindness and generosity for granted. She did seem a bit weak at times and needed to claw back some independence. As for the romance side I had no clue how this would all pan out as Stevie, Brad and gardener for Mrs. B - Paul all had different roles to play. Some aspects of the later half of the book were stronger than others. Morgan finally came into his own and I thought his storyline was excellent but regarding Audrey's love it all seemed a bit disjointed and her feelings and viewpoints chopped and changed so much that I began to not even care what happened with her and I slightly lost interest even though the book had been good up to that point. I kind of just wanted things to hurry up and resolve themselves.
Initially I did 'get' Audrey and all she was feeling and experiencing but maybe the more I read as she is way older than I am I found myself not identifying with her and really just wanted her to confront everything and totally lose the plot and scream and shout so people would have to take notice. The title suggests a woman who literally just walked out one day but that's not the case and maybe I wanted that in the book. A slightly more serious storyline to go alongside all the humour. I think this could have been achieved by the author without losing the overall tone of the book or go against the authors writing style and belief in her characters.
Overall The Woman Who Upped and Left wasn't the read I was expecting. It was nice enough but tapered off towards the end for me. It is a quick and easy read and does let you escape for a few hours to a story where you can be glad that you are not facing the ups and downs Audrey deals with in her life. I'd like to try another book from Fiona Gibson just to see how it compares to this one as there were definitely elements of her writing I enjoyed.
Many thanks to Avon for my copy of this book to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.