Reading a good book is much like letting a delicious chocolate melt in your mouth. The anticipation alone is exciting but the real gratification begins as soon as you pop it into your mouth. Then, the pleasure mounts as you allow the outer layer of chocolate to slowly melt, revealing a creamy strawberry centre or a nutty cluster that you can chew on and make it last longer. It’s an experience to be savored. Am I getting too Forrest Gump-y? I thought of that analogy when I considered the path that led me to read Sarah Haywood’s novel The Cactus. I first heard about the book as a result of reading Reese Witherspoon’s Whiskey In A Teacup, which I absolutely loved, and bought copies for friends. That book made me aware of Witherspoon’s book club which ultimately led to reading several books she recommended, including The Cactus. Getting there was a leisurely, delicious process that I genuinely savoured.
Followers of BOOMERBROADCAST will know already that I’m a confirmed fan of British television and British authors. For those of you who enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Doing Fine (which I read twice), you’ll love The Cactus. It’s the quirky story of Susan Green, a 45-year-old single woman with major control issues, who lives and works in London at a statistics-related job that suits her somewhat anal personality. Susan is also a trained lawyer who opted to not practise after graduating from law school.
In a stroke of double jeopardy, Susan has just lost her mother and unexpectedly finds herself pregnant by her long-term friend-with-benefits, that she has no intention of marrying. When she decides to keep the baby and raise it as a single mother, she envisions life falling into the neat, orderly patterns that she has worked hard to develop throughout her life. But life doesn’t always go according to plan.
Susan’s co-workers are delighted about her expected baby—they’re surprised and pleased she has gentler aspects to her personality that weren’t immediately evident. The collection of cactus plants she keeps on her desk is a metaphor for her life. Thus, the subheading, “It’s never too late to bloom” which reminds me of another meme, “Bloom where you’re planted” which is a personal favourite of mine.
The book, however, is not about motherhood and the joys of giving birth. It’s a character study of a lonely, middle-aged woman with little experience in or tolerance for life outside her carefully defined parameters. When life’s inevitable complications arise, she approaches them with naive optimism and calculated plans for solutions.
As if she doesn’t already have her hands full with the prospect of a baby on the way, she is confronted with another major issue. When her mother dies she inexplicably leaves their family home in Birmingham to her worthless younger brother, Ed. Susan is appalled to learn that their mother, who always favoured her weak (by her standards) brother, stipulated in her will that Ed can live in the family home until he sells it or dies. This hardly seems fair so Susan sues her brother for her half-share.
As she prepares her case against her brother, she negotiates the future relationship between her unborn baby and its father, whose personality is as anal as Susan’s. They’re both overly self-possessed and approach life’s challenges with logical thinking which isn’t always conducive to how real life works.
Most families have secrets and the Green family is no exception. The story takes place over a period of less than a year, beginning during the early months of her pregnancy. Her brother’s temporary room-mate, Rob, provides a buffer between the siblings and their mutual dislike of each other. While understanding and supporting Ed’s unconventional lifestyle, Rob is also sympathetic to Susan’s dilemma and tries to help her. More complications arise.
Her lack of a sense of humour is mistaken for an actual sense of humour which is actually quite humourous. Susan’s life which is set mainly in London and Birmingham reminded me so much of Eleanor Oliphant’s carefully ordered, albeit misguided existence. Which is why I loved this book and I think you will too. I’d rate it 8 out 10.
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