Friday, 11 October 2013

Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson

Publication date: 4th February 2008
Published by:  Sphere
Contemporary fiction for women

The Publisher's Synopsis:
(Because I didn't have time to write my own.)
Eight years ago, Nova Kumalisi agreed to have a baby for Mal and Stephanie Wacken. Halfway through the pregnancy, the couple changed their minds and walked away, leaving Nova pregnant, scared and alone.

Eight years ago, Stephanie was overjoyed at the thought of becoming a mother - until she found a text from Mal to Nova saying, "Goodnight, beautiful". Terrified of losing her husband to his closest friend, Stephanie asked him to cut all ties to Nova and their unborn child.

Now, Nova is anxiously waiting for her son, Leo, to wake up from a coma, while childless Stephanie is desperately trying to save her failing marriage. Although they live separate lives, both women have secrets that will bind them together for ever..

My Review:

This is the second novel I have read by the author Dorothy Koomson.  I enjoyed the first one and recall saying in that review that the intrigue made it a page-turner.  The same goes for Goodnight Sweetheart.  It also reminded me of one of my favourite novels, One Day by David Nicholls.  The story is different but I found the relationship between Mal and Nova similar to that of Dexter and Emma – so if you liked One Day you might like this one too.

Dorothy Koomson is not one to shy away from difficult subjects.  This novel touches on the kind of tragedy that affects real people in the real world.  Unfortunately, as with the previous book I read by her (The woman he loved before), at times I found myself questioning the plausibility of parts of it, which is why I was not as moved emotionally by it as may have been intended.  It's that 'suspension of disbelief' problem again.  Nevertheless, it was a really good read. 

The book is clearly about the two female characters Nova and Stephanie, and you get an in-depth account of their experiences, the way these experiences have affected them as human beings and an insight as to why they behaved the way they did.  I did find myself referring to Nova as ‘Saint Nova’ because I found her to be Mother-Teresa-like while Steph was at times painted as this evil witch.  I wanted to hate Steph and resisted only because there were hints throughout to suggest that she had a sad past that led to and (for want of a better word) justified her behaviour.  In the end I did feel sorry for her.

I do have a criticism of this book: the way male characters were portrayed.  I would say that Mal was the one I felt sorry for most of all.  It seemed as though, in childhood and beyond, his life consisted of making sacrifices and suffering for the benefit of those close to him and this never seemed to change or get better for him.  I could not (and do not) believe that (in the real world) someone in Mal’s situation would have agreed to cut off ties from his child and best friend for life and then continue to stay away for nearly 8 years, only picking up news of his son from others in the family.  This is my point about plausibility.  I just don’t believe it.  He would not have been able to stay away.  If he was a hard, detached sort of character, then maybe, but he wasn’t.  He was kind, loving and caring.  The justification that Nova was the ‘stronger woman’ just didn’t wash with me.   I also had a problem with the way Keith was portrayed.  He was made out by Nova to be quite selfish and yet he seemed to spend most of his time sitting by Leo’s bed in her absence (as if that was his purpose).  I appreciate that the novel was meant to be about the women and their pain, but it felt like the men were dismissed.

Spoiler alert:  I do think the book ended well.  Of course, I wanted the Hollywood ending for Mal and Nova but I think that would have weakened the story – made it less powerful.  I think this way, Dorothy Koomson has not only acknowledged the people in the real world who experience loss of a child, and those who have ‘loved and lost’, but also she has honoured them.  Also, I think it ended hopeful.  There was the suggestion that Nova would return from her travels and who knows what Steph would have done once she found out about the other ‘little’ surprise.  Mal and Nova may well have ended up together later on.  It has been left open.  End of spoiler alert.

Goodnight Beautiful is a bitter-sweet enjoyable read.

My appeal to readers

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