Reviewed by Emma Crowley
A big bereavement. An empty nest. And a runaway husband.
Susannah Stevens hopes that whoever said bad things come in threes got it right, because she can't cope with much more going wrong in her life.
She finds herself a job as a freelance 'Mind Body and Spirit' correspondent, meets a self-styled guru who thinks she needs liberating from more than just an empty nest, and learns that sometimes all you can do is go with the flow of life.
Susannah's boss, Katie Corrigan, is young enough to be her daughter. She has always played by the rules in order to further her career, but when she too discovers there are some things she just can't control, she has to reassess all she thought she knew.
In a fast-moving year of crisis and reinvention, each woman has to figure out what to do when her Plan A falls apart - and she never dreamt she'd need a Plan B.
Reinventing Susannah is the second book from Irish author Joan Brady which follows two women Susannah and Katie as what they had believed to be their perfect lives come tumbling down around them. The two women are separated by age and circumstance but it's only as the story progresses that they find a common bond, a tentative unity which sees them attempt to come to terms with what has unfolded. I felt the plot was similar to other books in the women's fiction market in that something major happens in a women's life, the rug is pulled out from under her and she has to cope and somehow move on. So yes, I felt I had read this kind of story many times before. Parts of it were done very well, whereas I felt others lacked development and were only getting started before we moved on to something else. Joan Brady has real talent as proven by her début novel The Cinderella Reflex and she has grown with this second novel but I still think she has a lot more to give to write the perfect novel that has me hooked from beginning to end. I enjoyed Reinventing Susannah in parts but overall it was an average read for me.
Susannah gave up her career as a newspaper journalist once she had her twins Jess and Orlaith and ever since has dedicated her life to rearing her children and keeping the family home going. Rob, her husband has spent over twenty years working in the bank and on first impressions they seem like any other normal family. But things are stirring and change is on the horizon. Susannah is coming to terms with the loss of her mother and in a way the loss of the twins as they have moved to New York for a year on an internship. So Susannah is just left with her husband to look after. The days stretch endlessly ahead with not much to do and she begins to feel lonely and not as useful as she once was. In steps Rob with a bombshell within the first few chapters and the news he imparts sets the marker for me as to how I felt about his character.
Rob has taken a career break and is going away for a year to 'find himself', to discover what he has been missing. The world is his oyster. That's all well and good you may think. The family need a break away except this journey of discovery does not include Susannah. If I had been placed in that situation and my husband of x amount of years had imparted that bombshell to me I would have been devastated and couldn't cope with it all. Did all those years of marriage count for nothing? Rob was blunt and took no one else's feelings into consideration. I thought Susannah was foolish in a way to believe that Rob would be back within a few weeks. For god's sake the man had planning things for three years. It's clear he wanted out. Susannah was meek and submissive and lacked belief in herself that she could control her own destiny. She was the one who certainly needed to transform over the course of the story.
Katie Corrigan is features editor for the Daily Post newspaper and was a complete contrast to Susannah and much more my kind of person. She was strong, had clear goals and knew what she wanted to achieve in life. She was a workaholic, with a work to bed life who wanted to do everything herself. I could see some traits of myself within her. She had plenty of motivation and wanted to go for things whereas I felt Susannah for the majority of the book was waiting for things to be handed to her on a plate. As Katie is put under further pressure with demands from work her relationship with Luke begins to suffer and a break ensues. A break on which Katie does something she struggles to accept for the remainder of the book. Katie's personal life similar to the way Susannah's imploded became quite complicated. As the two connect when Katie offers Susannah a job as the mind, body and soul correspondent for the newspaper they begin to see they can offer each other something which in turn may well provide the clarity they need to move forward. The mind, body and soul element, self help books and motivational seminars will appeal to some readers of the book but this aspect wasn't for me. I could see the author was trying to convey the benefits of it and how it could help Susannah but even she doubted the whole thing. I sped read through these parts as they really didn't hold my interest.
Each women seems to allude to something in the past that affects how they think and view their own personal situation in the present. I felt at random times little paragraphs popped up regarding the two women's past and it was as if I had missed out on a whole section of the book. It felt like it had been mentioned before but I had forgotten it and I know this wasn't the case. That's one thing about this book is that little new strands or sub plots were introduced and discussed for a page or two and then they were dismissed, never fully explored or developed. What I felt could have had more explanation and progression never got any. Whereas other storylines seemed to go on for ever as in Geraldo Laffite. The character of Phil was a strange inclusion and he gave me the creeps. There was something else going on there that deserved a chapter or two. I was expecting to go on an enthralling journey with Susannah as she reinvents herself as is suggested by the title but for me the journey lacked some substance and I wasn't as gripped as I should have been. Joan Brady is a good writer and has great potential to write a fantastic book that will catch the attention of many. She hasn't quite reached that point with Reinventing Susannah yet but is well on the road to getting there.
Many thanks to Poolbeg for my copy of Reinventing Susannah to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.