Reviewed by Ian Lipke
For an opener to the day I was served a treat, care of an early courier and author Frances Whiting. The Best Kind of Beautiful is the story of a young woman who prefers ‘loner’ status and a man who has a very busy social life. The attraction between them lies fallow because of their very similar but in fact different, life-styles and their discreet approaches to the sanctity of personal privacy. As expected, the warm friendship between Florence Saint Claire, who prefers to make it through life left to her own devices, and Albert Flowers, the socialite whose every hour away from work is accounted for, fall in love.
It is not at all surprising that at least one member of the Saint Claire family reaches out for living space. At home with the memory of a show business father who appears to have been loved, deeply and universally, a mother, whose every scene in every day is high-powered theatre, an emotionally-drained brother and a younger sister full of sass and vinegar, Florence can hardly retain her privacy.
This is a story of give-and-take. It is a tale of coping. Florence was once a member of a singing group. A story lies behind that. Although appearing to do little more than her paid work, Florence is involved with another pair of odd characters. There is a sub-story in that. Albert’s long involvement with a couple Jeremy and Lydia contains a story as significant as any other back-story, and is all part of the exciting mix of tales and characters that fill the mind of Frances Whiting. Their transfer to her readers is slick but done remarkably well, for we never twig, from the writing style she adopts, that she is a journo with incisive and experienced writing skills. Her book is a composite of characters that are very human, and therefore imperfect, and tales of humble proportions that are seen by the particular characters involved as of immense significance.
The book is wittily told with the lightness that only a skilled writer, herself warmed by a love of humanity, and cognizant of the frailty of humankind, could supply. While writing about human foibles and the pleasant things that people do or think, Whiting retains a deftness in her task that never makes her readers feel put upon or talked down to. The word to describe her writing is genuine. She understands Florence and she knows Albert in just as much depth as she knows Victor from next door and the missing Leon. Outstandingly simple, yet a touch of genius, is her solution to Victor’s need to stay house-bound, as important to the story as the love Florence bears for her family or the little misunderstandings that Albert’s and Florence’s love must negotiate.
When I think about the cast that plays out its role and the elements of the story that stitch it all into a coherent unit, and I treat myself to the sight of a garden of simple beauty such that this book represents, my mind (as odd as any mind may chance to be) recalls Kenneth Slessor’s little poem Fixed Ideas that ends with –
Frail tinkling rush
Prickles and glitters
Cloudy with bristles
River of thought
Swimming the pebbles –
Undo, loosen your bubbles!
I can recommend that all readers allow Frances Whiting to ‘undo, loosen your bubbles’ with this exquisite, feel-good novel.
By Frances Whiting