This Christmas gone by, I’d bought a signed copy of a novel in advance for someone, but then it was agreed that we wouldn’t do presents this time so the book was added to my teetering TBR piles. Then, when I was scouting through a list of Welsh authors so I could join in with the Wales Readathon, aka the Dewithon 2021 hosted by Paula at Book Jotter, this author, who I’d not known as Welsh at all leapt out at me – and when her latest novel was longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize, it had to be this book.
The author is Dawn French, born in Holyhead on Anglesey; her father was stationed at RAF Valley, (where Prince William served as an RAF Search and Rescue Pilot). I’ve read French before, rather enjoying her second novel Oh Dear Silvia, reviewed here, so although I read little commercial women’s fiction, I knew I’d enjoy her latest. There is bound to be some sniffiness about a commercial author such as French being longlisted for a literary prize, but there is nothing in the Women’s Prize criteria to preclude any type of novel written by a woman. To be honest Because of You has a cracking story, great characters, and is told with wit, warmth and empathy and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
The story begins at the turn of the millennium, two couples are in the maternity wing of a London hospital, about to give birth. In one room, Anna is labouring away, while her husband, and arrogant young black MP, Julius, is getting in the way of the Irish midwife with his camera.
‘This is your good wife, and quite frankly, sir, I don’t think she’s wanting any close-ups of her noonny right, now, am I right lamb?’
‘Yep. No,’ Anna confirmed between puffs.
[…] ‘Some of our daddies forget themselves in the excitement and, sure, they become utter feckin’ pillocks.
Conceived by IVF, the realisation that the arrival of their baby will link its parents forever is bringing Anna close to panic. Julius is no saint, and she’s stood by him through their increasingly toxic marriage. Then, when baby Florence arrives, Julius promptly faints!
Down the corridor, things aren’t going smoothly for Hope and Quiet Isaac. Hope had moved from her mixed-race family in Bristol to London a while ago, when she met Isaac, from Liberia she knew he was the one, although a quiet man, Isaac was ‘very noisy with his eyes’. Sadly, Hope and Isaac’s baby is stillborn. She was to be called Minnie. Although the hospital staff are very understanding, leaving without a living baby is the saddest thing imaginable.
Isaac takes the bags back down to the car. Hope will follow, but on the way past Anna and Julius’ room, she sees both parents sound asleep, the midwives were letting them rest. Yes, you’ve guessed it, she takes their baby. She gets away with it too, the police thinking she’d left before, and so she brings up Florence as Minnie. Isaac, a man of truth, while knowing that Hope will be a fabulous mother, elects to return to Africa, where he will think about his ‘daughter’ all of the time.
As Minnie is about to turn eighteen-years-old, things will come to a head, and Hope realises she will have to come clean to her daughter. Everyone’s lives will be turned upside down again. I won’t say any more.
Although there’s no way that you can condone what Hope did, you can understand how she was driven to it. You can see that she is a very loving mother, and equally, that Julius would probably have been a crap father, egotist that he is. The character that you particularly feel for is Anna who, saddled with a husband she doesn’t love any more, is also deprived of a child to love and be loved by.
French’s writing style on the page reads very much to me as she’d read the text out loud, it works, alternating bursts of short sentences with occasional longer, multi-claused ones. The dialogue is contemporary, with lots of slang, occasional swearing and patois, some youth-speak like ” ‘S amazing.” On the whole, the characters are well-observed, especially Hope, Anna and Minnie, naturally. This is a novel full of strong women. There was one policeman who speaks in unnecessary Malapropisms that totally irritated, made up for by a lawyer known as “Piers the Wife Slayer” which says all you need to know in just four words. As I said above, French writes with wit and warmth. The story, while a good one full of big issues and bigger emotions, is a little predictable (although the ending surprised), and the characters act as you expect, but there is plenty of heartfelt empathy and emotion there to engage us.
Because of You was an absolute page-turner, I sped through it needing to know how it all works out for these women. It is a super read, but somehow I doubt it’ll make the Women’s Prize shortlist. (8/10)
Source: Own copy. Dawn French, Because of you – hardback, 382 pages.
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