"The Beach House"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage DEC 19, 2008)
Years ago, I stumbled across a copy of Jane Green’s novel Jemima J. The novel was refreshing, witty and delightful, so I approached The Beach House with high hopes—at the same time realizing that Green’s chick-lit hit style has matured and morphed into a different focus. Interestingly, with most of Green’s characters as forty-somethings, the focus is responsibility and selfishness. Green’s characters seem to be split into those who shoulder responsibilities and those who absent themselves for a range of reasons.
The Beach House, at first, seems to be centered on the life of a sixty-five year widow named Nan who owns a splendid old, crumbling house on 9 acres of prime real estate in the Nantucket village of Siasconset. Assaulted with financial woes due to plummeting Hedge funds, Nan decides to rent rooms out in her home to raise much-needed cash. Her visitors include: Daniel, a married man with two children, Daff, a forty-something single who’s struggling to rebuild her life after a divorce, and Nan’s son, Michael, a jewelry designer who flees back home when his affair with a married woman threatens to consume his life. Add to the mix: Daniel’s wife, Bea, and Daff’s ex-husband Richard, his girlfriend, Carrie, and Daff and Richard’s 13-year-old daughter, Jessica. All of these characters converge in Green’s novel through sexual obsessions, adulterous affairs, and broken marriages.
The Beach House is a very easy, unchallenging read, and little is required from the reader beyond keeping the details straight of who’s who in the plot. If you enjoy the novels of Joanna Trollope, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy The Beach House. The characters, however, are mainly superficially drawn and the plot often resorts to clichés. The well-worn phrases “rose-tinted glasses” and “knight-in-shining armor” appear, and while they are simplistic phrases we can all relate to, these clichés diminish the characters to "types" rather than full-fleshed human beings. While this is notable with all the characters, it’s odd that Jordana, Michael’s high-maintenance boss first appears as a vibrant woman, but she very soon shrinks into caricature when Michael’s lustful passion subsides. Some of the last, unpleasant glimpses seen of Jordana show her sitting in Nantucket, looking at fellow customers and wondering where all the breast implants are. Do people really think that way?
But the biggest complaint I had about the novel is that people are too damn nice. Horrible things are done to some of the characters by their nearest and dearest, but with few exceptions, no one loses it—well Jessica, the bratty thirteen-year-old devolves into the behavior of a tantrum-throwing two-year-old in a pathetic ploy to get attention. But even here the plot fails to ring true. Jessica is AWFUL, a real mess, but the adults in her life suddenly become saints in their almost-pious attempts to "reach" her. Jessica treats Carrie, the new girlfriend/potential stepmother abominably, and Richard, Carrie’s boyfriend sits by and allows it to happen. Where is Carrie’s rage or at least anger? I nominate this character for sainthood—that or she needs therapy. And this isn’t the only instance in which a complete MELTDOWN would not have been out of place (without giving away the plot, I’m thinking Nan at this point). In spite of life destroying events, no one falls apart and come out swinging. People are awfully civilized, too civilized, in this Green novel, and that makes it just a little too unreal in this plot of affairs, lust and broken marriages.
- Amazon readers rating: from 151 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Beach House at Good Morning America
"To Have and To Hold "
(Reviewed by Olivia Boler JUL 15, 2005)
Ah, chick lit. It’s been disparaged far and wide, and yet, it sells so well. In the January/February 2005 issue of Poets & Writers, writer Cris Mazza took on the “perversion of a genre” that many saw spark with Bridget Jones’s Diary. Whether or not readers see that genre as smartened up women’s romance novels or dumbed down women’s literary novels, there are a few ingredients that seem necessary: a main character dealing with some sort of personal crisis, be it foreseeable spinsterhood or—well, that’s usually it; snappy dialog usually occurring with a best friend or two (either another women or a gay man); a love interest; a career on the verge of being glamorous; at least one sex scene; and a happy ending. Jane Green, the British author of bestsellers such as Jemima J and Mr. Maybe, usually adheres to these ingredients; however, in To Have and To Hold, she does play down the laugh-out-loud humor for a more nuanced revelation of character.
Alice Chambers, the 36-year-old protagonist, has been the trophy wife of Joe, a successful businessman with a penchant for extramarital affairs. Alice seems like the last woman who would want never mind let herself become a trophy wife. A quiet, mousy girl who runs her own catering business when she reconnects with Joe, on whom she had a schoolgirl crush in her youth, she is grateful and impressed that Joe would choose her. In fact, it’s the mousy qualities that attract Joe—he thinks, like Pygmalion, that he can mold Alice into the woman he wants who will take care of him and not ask questions—and he does. Alice is in Joe’s thrall, and willingly straps on the painful Jimmy Choos, the slick wedding gown, and the London see-and-be-seen lifestyle of gallery openings and gossip, all of which she loathes. While Joe coerces her to lose weight, highlight and straighten her hair, and live in a swank, modern home (more than anything, Alice longs for a country cottage), he wants her to stay mousy on the inside.
Joe may seem like a jerk, and he is. He’s materialistic, shallow, a slave to trends, and controlling of Alice—and let’s not forget he’s also a sex addict, in need of pursuing women he should not have. But Green insists that he cares for Alice and “would never dream of hurting her,” even though he does. She gives us Joe’s background—his own father was a philanderer and used young Joe to cover his tracks, and it seems inevitable Joe will stray. After all, it’s in his blood. While this does flesh out Joe’s character and give him complexity, when all is said and done he’s still a self-centered, egotistical creep.
Other characters describe Alice as having “sad eyes.” Green’s past heroines have all had some sort of weakness they need to overcome, but Alice, a little older and a little more batted around, seems more desperate in a way because she has actually taken The Vows. She is trapped in a way the other protagonists are not. Of course, this is a Jane Green novel, so Alice’s predicament can not last. It is Joe’s affair with a colleague that leads to his transfer to the United States. There, to appease his wife, he buys her a Connecticut “country home”—really, a suburban retreat. Finally, Alice begins to blossom and somehow find the strength to take steps toward doing something about changing her eyes from sad to happy. Fans of Green’s work will not be disappointed—there’s still the witty dialog, particularly between Alice and her best friend Emily. There’s even a love interest for our heroine, but the focus of this novel seems somehow more grown-up than Green’s others, and somehow more real.
- Amazon readers rating: from 99 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from To Have and To Hold at author's website(back to top)
(Reviewed by Kam Aures NOV 30, 2003)
"The first couple of months it was no big deal. It only became a big deal when Sam, Julia's best friend, fell pregnant without even trying. Of course Julia was delighted for her, could not have been happier or more excited, but somehow it raised the stakes, began to put pressure on, and suddenly Julia found this was no longer fun, this was business. For the first time in her life she found herself failing at something."
Jane Green's newest novel explores the lives of three very different women all striving for the same goal: happiness. The novel starts out focusing on Julia, a producer for London Daytime Television. For an outsider looking in, Julia appears to have it all. However, appearances can be deceiving and we soon find out that in Julia's case they are. Julia is married to Mark, London Daytime Television's lawyer, and their relationship has developed into one that is null and void of love and romance. Julia thinks that having a child with him will help bring happiness back into their failing marriage. After the stresses of not being able to become pregnant, Julia decides to go to New York and live with her friend Bella to take a break and to try to make sense out of her life.
The novel then progresses on to tell the story of Maeve, a woman who is focused on one thing only, her career. Successfully having climbed the rungs of the corporate ladder, she has no desire whatsoever to settle down and start a family. However, one night after a few drinks and a one-night stand with an acquaintance in an alley, her life is about to drastically change as she finds herself pregnant. She needs to make a decision as to whether or not she wants to keep the child as having a baby would throw a wrench in her future career plans.
The third section of the novel centers on Samantha. Samantha is happily married to her husband Chris and has a new baby boy named George. However, the couple's limits are put to the test with the added stress that the new baby brings. Samantha feels herself starting to resent the fact that Chris is able to leave the house to go to work while she is stuck at home with a crying baby. At wits end, she considers going outside her marriage to regain the perfect life that she once had.
All three women's stories are neatly intertwined as they are all acquainted. For instance, Julia and Samantha are best friends, Julia met Maeve at another friend's wedding, and Maeve takes over Julia's job when she leaves to go to New York. These relationships, some more familiar than others, cause the storyline to flow very smoothly without huge jumps from one story to the next. As the novel progresses each of the characters lives intersect in more ways than they ever had imagined.
The common ground among all three women is that their lives have been turned upside down by motherhood or by the thought of it. Each character is so well-developed that the reader will gain a strong sense of each of the women's personalities, feelings and struggles which makes for a novel that is very hard to put down. The pages turn easily as you will want to see what decisions are made by each of the women and the effects that these decisions will have on the others. Don't be put off by the fact that the novel is 438 pages long, Babyville is a very engaging read and you will fly through it in no time at all!
- Amazon readers rating: from 42 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Babyville at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Straight Talking (1997)
- Jemima J: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans (2000)
- Mr. Maybe (2001)
- Bookends (2002)
- Babyville (2003)
- To Have and To Hold (2004)
- The Other Woman (2005)
- Swapping Lives (2006)
- Second Chance (2007)
- The Beach House (2008)
- Dune Road (2009) (aka Girl Friday)
- Promises to Keep (2010)
- Another Piece of My Heart (March 2012)
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- The official Web site for Jane Green
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About the Author:
Jane Green was born in London and is considered a "founding member" of the genre known as "chick lit."
She worked for many years as a journalist, with occasional forays into public relations for film, television, and the odd celebrity. As a novelists, she is one of the preeminent names in commercial women's fiction. Jane has been featured widely in the media, including in People, Newsweek, USA TODAY, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan.
She lives in Connecticut with "Beloved" (see her blog), Ian Warburg, and her four children.