Blurb from Goodreads
‘Turning thirty is like playing musical chairs. The music stops, and everyone just marries whoever they happen to be sitting on.’
Who the f*ck is Tori Bailey?
There’s no doubt that Tori is winning the game of life. A straight-talking, bestselling author, she’s inspired millions of women around the world with her self-help memoir. And she has the perfect relationship to boot.
But Tori Bailey has been living a lie.
Her long-term boyfriend won’t even talk about marriage, but everyone around her is getting engaged and having babies. And when her best friend Dee – her plus one, the only person who understands the madness – falls in love, suddenly Tori’s in terrifying danger of being left behind.
When the world tells you to be one thing and turning thirty brings with it a loud ticking clock, it takes courage to walk your own path.
It’s time for Tori to practice what she’s preached, but the question is: is she brave enough?
The debut adult novel by bestselling author Holly Bourne is a blisteringly funny, honest and moving exploration of love, friendship and navigating the emotional rollercoaster of your thirties.
I have somewhat of a colourful history with Holly Bourne. I’ve read the majority of her YA novels and I find her brand of writing to be somewhat limited in its viewpoint, especially when it comes to feminism. I feel she overcooks her novels with issues that sort of bash you across the head with feminism at the expense of narrative and character development. Particularly with her male characters. So it was incredibly interesting to read her first foray into the world of adult fiction and to see where I would lie in my book group’s great debate on this novel.
So I find myself, somewhat surprisingly to me, on Team Holly! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions and I was also brought to tears with how the MC Tori felt at times.
Tori is an incredibly interesting main character to read about. She’s in her early thirties. In a long term, seemingly dead end and incredibly toxic relationship with her boyfriend Tom and is experiencing that time in life when all her friends are getting married and having babies… And she is not dealing with that change very well. In fact life seems to have made her quite bitter and at times she makes it hard for a reader to empathise with her because she’s not always sunshine and roses to her friends. But that is exactly why I love her. She’s complicated. Flawed. Thoroughly screwed up. And I 100% could identify with so many of her feelings towards her married / happily coupled up friends who were starting their families.
Her relationship with boyfriend Tom was very painful to read about. Because on the surface it was fine, it was glossy. She kept up appearances… But underneath there were more than cracks, there were ever expanding ravines. There was a complete breakdown in communication and Tori had so much self-doubt because of it. And normally in a Holly Bourne novel I would bemoan the lack of viewpoint or authentically whole characterisation of the main male character… But not in this book. Because of the style of narrative. This was written in almost a diary fashion. So it was all of Tori’s emotions and confusions we got to experience. And some of those emotions were so painful to read about. There was a particular scene where Tori initiates sex with Tom because she sees his body respond to a sex scene on television and what happens next is nothing short of horrifying as Tori is used as means of sexual gratification without her full consent to taking sexual relations to that level. BUT what is worse is how she tries to justify it to herself later. As a character she clings to any semblance of affection that Tom gives her and she somehow stuffs down that nagging inner voice that tells her things aren’t okay. And it’s this unhappiness that hugely influences her views on her female friendships and her friends’ lifestyle choices.
Tori’s relationships with her female friends were incredibly well described. In books I know I frequently lament the lack of strong female friendships and complain about so much needless girl-girl hate but here, the shattering female friendships were a means of illustrating Tori’s own insecurities and self loathing. And some of the feelings Tori expressed were also quite indicative of fragments of my own personal experience with how friendships in my life have changed as I have stayed perennially single and childless, whereas my closest friends have embarked on long term relationships / marriage and have started their own families. I’m not as bitter as Tori but Tori’s experience is a great conversation starter for what is a tricky subject.
Bourne uses the imagery of a wall that divides those in their thirties into the group who are childless and the group who have babies. And it’s a wall that Tori states once crossed can never be crossed again.
When she discovers her best friend Dee is pregnant over dinner there’s a lot of pain for Tori to contend with as she has to try fake her happiness for her friend even though she knows that this now means their friendship will never quite be what it was…
“There is a gap between us now. A space that will grow and grow because Dee is on the other side of the wall. She can still see me and talk to me and we can pretend the wall is not there, but it is it’s been erected in only minutes.”
So this book is not about the joys of motherhood. That’s for another time and place, for a different set of characters… This book looks at the experience of that other side of life. It’s about people like Tori that for whatever reason haven’t found the one, or are in the wrong relationship or maybe don’t want to have children but they still feel this weight… this burden of expectation on their shoulders that because they don’t have a ring on their finger or a beautiful child that they somehow aren’t complete. Because in this book that’s what well meaning friends and relatives who already have children and/or strong relationships imply. (And also dare I say occurs very much in real life too). It’s not through nastiness or any such thing, although Tori experiences some pettiness in that regard for putting her career ahead of a hen party, but it’s about how people in committed strong relationships who either have kids or are trying for them can somehow view their lives as being… I don’t want to say more meaningful because that’s wrong. But it’s this thing of ‘oh you’ll know when you have your own or when you find the one’.
It’s this wall.
Life changes for them because it simply has to. You have a strong partnership and you have to think about your partner’s needs and wants. You have a child and it’s utterly dependent on you… And it doesn’t change for the person who doesn’t have a rock solid relationship or child. And it’s this inability to deal with the change and the feeling that Tori is somehow excluded from the shiny happy families club that drives the plot forward.
Tori states of her best friend Dee:
“It’s funny how she already thinks there are different types of people who have kids. I guess that’s the sort of thought you have when you’re on that side of the wall. Oh, I’m not that kind of mum, I am this kind of mum. They find little subsections and pick the one that most makes them feel the best and therefore it’s fine, and they tell all their friends who don’t have children how different they are from the other mums. But, on my side of the wall, there are only two categories: people who have children and people who don’t. There aren’t any subsections for the people who do. They just do, and that’s everything to them and their life is changed for ever and they’re not as much fun anymore and won’t ever be again. Unless you cross the wall. Then they welcome you with open arms like Amy did. Oh we always knew you were one of us, they think.”
This is definitely a book that packs quite a difficult punch. Tori is certainly not always correct in how she views her friends and her relationship. But that doesn’t mean her feelings and opinions are any less valid. It’s her struggles and difficulties coming to terms with the idea that being single and childless in your thirties is a valid way of life, no more or less valid than the lifestyles of those who are partnered and/or have children. It’s not perfect, there are a few flippant remarks I could have done without but overall this is a great eye opening read that explores some of our more darker feelings about motherhood while also still being incredibly humorous and easy to digest.