Performance of one of my plays… and review of a debut novel

Personal: If you’re anywhere near Chapel-en-le-Frith on Friday-Saturday 10th-11th or 17th-18th June, why not spend an evening watching three one-act comedies in The Playhouse, Eccles Road, performed by the excellent Chapel Players? One of the plays, Bequest, is mine… and another is one of Alan Ayckbourn’s little masterpieces. Please don’t draw comparisons!

Book Review: If you’ve ever known a victim of so-called “cat fishing”, online dating with a man who makes you fall for him and then cajoles you into lending him money, you’ll empathise with the three victims in this well-contrived story by Mandy Byatt. Anna the teacher can’t get over Robbo, the lover who dumped her, so she goes online and meets “Dr David Kingfisher”, paediatric surgeon. Denise the carer, who gave up her relationship to look after her ungrateful and offensive mother (occasionally helped by the visiting carer Netty), goes online in the hunt for romance and meets “Dr David Kingfisher”, paediatric surgeon. Petra the veterinary nurse, her marriage in difficulties after a miscarriage, also falls for the wonderful David; who proves elusive – for the obvious reason that he doesn’t exist. Then the three women meet and, despite their suspicion and hostility towards each other, set out to track down the man who’s duped them.

We’re given the PoV of each woman in turn, and occasionally the PoV of “David”. What is most pleasing, and of course a requirement for the noir genre, is that all three women have flawed characters but excite a certain amount of empathy in the reader; particularly Denise, the one I found most likeable despite her difficulty in standing up for herself. Anna’s superior persona covers ill-controlled behaviour, and Petra’s introversion (and restless leg syndrome, which can be a symptom of psychiatric disorder) make her difficult to know.

The revelation of the miscreant is unexpected and the additional twist in the closing paragraph is well done, but despite the many virtues of this well-written debut novel I found the ending somewhat contrived. That was mildly disappointing because I’d read the book in two sittings, so well had it held my attention. Hence my four-star rather than five-star rating. But I’ll be glad to read another novel by Mandy Byatt.

Mandy Byatt, Just Another Liar, Avon, 2022; ISBN:978-0008459918

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