Dog Days by Mavis Cheek
Today I’m delighted to be a stop on Mavis Cheek‘s blog tour celebrating the new Ipso Books e-book editions of some of her backlist titles, of which her 1990 novel Dog Days is the latest (my review below).
It has been some years since I’ve read any of Mavis’s novels, but I do remember chuckling my way through Mrs. Fytton’s Country Life (2000) and Getting Back Brahms (1997). Three Men on a Plane (1998) is already available from Ipso, and Dog Days is the second of her novels to get the e-book treatment. Both have lovely covers of which Mavis says on her blog:
At last someone has got it right. They are unmistakably feminine designs but bold enough and colourful enough to knock away any thoughts of those floppy, flowery, soft focus, pastel-hued watercolour images so favoured by many publishers for their ‘Women’s Fiction’ and so laughably what women are not really about at all.
In her novels, Mavis puts mostly middle-aged women into real life situations and looks for the comedy in them to create stories that are light-hearted on the surface. The deeper currents running underneath however are based on truths that will chime with her readers while entertaining at the same time. I asked Mavis about how she did this in Dog Days:
Annabel: I loved Dog Days and chuckled all the way through, particularly as it struck very close to home with my own personal situation (although I have replacement cats which I adore rather than dogs!). But that didn’t stop my enjoyment, it made me giggle more. I wanted to ask about how you get the balance between real life and the slightly exaggerated life in your books.
Mavis: I’d like to say that it was carefully constructed to not undermine the pain of divorce etc. but – well – I think I just wrote it as an antidote to some of the strain and pain of going through that split myself – and – as far as I was concerned – moving on was a blessed liberation so I think I could genuinely write with a smile on my face despite the difficulties. And human nature never ceases to amaze me – I was not prepared for wandering husbands (or their wandering hands – what we used to call Desert Fever in the old days – ie. wandering palms) and all those other changes that take place when a woman moves from coupledom (ie. she’s safe) to singledom (ie. she’s dangerous). So it was great to throw it all into a book that made me laugh. I’m glad it made you laugh, too.
Thank you Mavis.
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You’ll have gathered from our conversation above that Dog Days concerns a newly single mother struggling to get her life back together after leaving her husband. Patricia was married to Gordon for eleven years and their daughter Rachel is ten. As the novel starts, Patricia and Rachel are at Battersea dogs home despite Patricia loathing the animals – and their owners who “say ‘walkies’ when they mean ‘shitties’.” The gingery father substitute that they end up with gets called Brian.
When one is deep in a pit of guilt because one is wresting one’s only offspring from happy dual-parentage into the uncertainty of living with Mother, one is prepared to make sacrifices. Rachel’s woeful blue eyes took on a certain cunning (a ten-year-old’s morality is mercifully uncomplicated when it beholds a fissure in an adult’s armour).
‘If I can’t have Daddy,’ she said, ‘can I have a dog?’
The dog installed, Patricia goes on to tell us a little about Gordon, how they met, and how they broke up. Their marriage starts to disintegrate as soon as Rachel was born, but it’s a gradual falling out of love with each other, keeping together for Rachel’s sake, until one of Patricia’s best friends urges her to make the break, not to keep prolonging it. The day comes and Patricia tells Rachel who howls, then says, ‘From now on I will know what it is like to suffer so it will make me a kinder person to others.’ – out of the mouth of babes! She goes from her mum to her dad.
Gordon stroked her head and, looking beyond it to me, standing in the doorway, he said very slowly and deliberately, ‘Mummy will have to get a job now.’
Those were his first words to her and I could have killed him. (p41)
The bitter and angry comedy of the first chapters is soon swapped for Patricia getting on with her life, ‘I was quite happy being single and sexless.’ Gordon soon acquires a new girlfriend – Miranda, twenty-one, and he enjoys telling this to Patricia, like ‘the Cheshire Cat Rampant.’ Patricia has to grin and bear it.
Having been a stay-at-home mum, Patricia soon gets a part time job and discovers that she actually quite likes working. Things are going well, and this is when all her friends start match-making. You must remember that in 1990 there was no online dating, you had to either sign-up with an agency, or go out and do things to meet new people. Patricia isn’t bothered, but her friends make a real effort to pepper their parties with single men for her. ‘There’s somebody in there who knows I’m available, isn’t there?’ she says to Gertrude.
The comedy of manners that ensues is great fun – and there will be all kinds of misunderstandings in weeks to come as Patricia starts to fall for someone she assumes is not available. Can there possibly be a happy ending? …
It’s impossible not to enjoy this novel. Patricia as our narrator is refreshingly straight-thinking, straight-talking too when needed. She isn’t at all frilly and is appealing in the same way as a older girl next door – you’d want her as your loyal friend. There are some fabulous set pieces, one in a posh restaurant with an indiscreet waiter and another involving the neighbour’s pet rabbit. These are hilarious, but it’s the insightful observations about the comedy in everyday life combined with cracking dialogue that make this novel zing with life from the first page.
I loved Dog Days – As a comedy about divorce, parts of it definitely resonated with my own experience, but I could still chuckle. Having rediscovered Mavis, I am going to enjoy reading much more of her back catalogue, she has written fifteen novels. Find out more on her website and do see the other stops on the Dog Days blog tour.
Source: Publisher – Thank you!
Mavis Cheek, Dog Days (1990). Ipso e-book and now available in paperback too.