Reviewed by Antonella Townsend
In her latest novel, Better Luck Next Time, Kate Hilton introduces readers to a cast of angst-ridden characters; a chaotic mix that includes: a famous feminist icon, five capable professional women,husbands and fathers, two unattached wise men, an angry teenage boy, and, crashing through the sound barrier, four-year-old twin sisters. Manipulating this cast of actors, Hilton writes an amusing fast paced comedy about divorce, but it’s not all fun and froth. There are wads of wisdom laced through the narrative; Better Luck Next Time is also a commentary on modern life, marriage and managing expectations.
Prior to the narrative beginning, Hilton presents an inventory of the Hennessey and the Goldstein-Hennessey members and how they are related to one another. She also details the supporting cast of three, omitting Tim Carver; this must be an error as he provides much needed wisdom. There is also the omission of ‘to’ on page 301: “… she is going (to) celebrate …”. And, an error on page 293, ‘… that doesn’t give you (what) want you want?’ Not that anyone would notice – the narrative keeps readers focused on who’s who, and who is doing what to whom – it takes concentration.
During the plot twists and turns, Hilton portrays the internal conflicts and growth of her cast of characters well. The narrative is amusing but clearly a vehicle for serious themes that are subtly introduced without sounding like a lecture.
Lydia Hennessey is preparing for a public celebration of her career as an icon feminist, but, unfortunately, her three daughters’ lives seem to be imploding. Mariana Hennessey’s marriage and her career as a journalist grind to a traumatic halt. She has no choice but to take a position with FairMarket Beauty headed up by Harmony Delacroix. Harmony is an amusing cliché character marketing ‘healing’ beauty products, one of which is burning in a dish during Mariana’s interview for the job. Harmony explains to Mariana that the aroma is palo santo, a lump of wood from a mystical tree indigenous to South America. “It prevents autoimmune disorders, depression, anxiety, even the common cold.” Despite Harmony’s over-selling, this reader really wants some, but cynical Mariana keeps her expression neutral, and nods.
Nina, Lydia’s second daughter, has just returned from working as a doctor in a war-torn country with sad news that she feels unable to share with her family.
Lydia’s youngest daughter Beata is a single mother. Her teenage son, Oscar, shocks the whole family over dinner by announcing he has discovered a father he didn’t know existed.
Cousins to the above, Zoe and Zack, provide another trajectory to the narrative. Zoe is coping with a difficult divorce from Richard. Despite not contributing much effort or money to the marriage, Richard is determined to get some equity in Zoe’s advertising agency. She engages divorce lawyer Eloise Embree, who is a good friend and colleague of Will Shannon, the ‘new’ father to Oscar. Zack, once a famous script writer, is recovering from an addiction problem. He acquired much self-knowledge and general wisdom during his time in rehab which he shares with Zoe at opportune moments.
Tim Carver, an author and therapist, specializing in mid-life relationships and ‘friend’ of Mariana, his advice is sage: “A relationship at this stage should be an enhancement to an already rich, full life. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a relationship is a shortcut to the life you want. Build the life you want, and the relationship will be much easier to find.”
As each drama is unfurls, Lydia’s celebratory parade must be organized. Putting their own issues on hold, her daughters do their best to make the day wonderful for their mother but, to paraphrase, the best laid plans of mice and ladies can lead to high drama.
This entertaining tale is a light read, while offering useful insights on marriage and relationships.
“… So, the worst-case scenario is that you never find love, but you live a full life with a family who loves you, dogs to cuddle, friends to vacation with, and work you enjoy, and from time to time you feel like you missed out on a great love that might have been. … How does that compare to settling for a relationship that doesn’t give you what you want?”
by Kate Hilton
Allen & Unwin
$29.99; Pp. 368