Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura.

This was an unexpectedly quirky and refreshing take on the obsessional friendship trope, a theme I’ve loved ever since watching Single White Female back in the 1990’s. This is the first of the author’s novels to be translated into English from the original Japanese. I was surprised by that, because there was something about the writing style and the main character that I thought would appeal to the British reader. I thought earlier novels might have also appealed to British readers. The daily eccentricities of the the Woman in the Purple Skirt the man m were charming and intriguing, so it was that and my curiosity about the motives of the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan that drew me in to the story. There is also an interesting, melancholic sense of humour that struck me as something British reader would enjoy.

There are some characteristics that the two women share, such as living standards and finances. It’s possible that both are lonely and are living from hand to mouth, but what drives the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan to get up and watch her every move? What does she want? Eventually, she lures the Woman in the Purple Skirt to a job with the cleaning agency where she works as a hotel housekeeper. This brings the women into proximity, but instead of a friendship emerging, the Woman in a Purple Skirt falls into an affair with the boss. This is the main difference between the women; the Woman in a Yellow Cardigan only watches, while the Woman in a Purple Skirt actually lives. I felt this distinction very strongly and wondered whether there would be resentment or even anger towards the Woman in a Purple Skirt. This is where the book really ventures into thriller territory as the women meet and we see the dynamics of female relationships, the obsessiveness and that human need to be seen, recognised and even desired. This woman simply wants to be noticed and considered by someone else. Why do people recognise the Woman in the Purple Skirt? What does she have that makes people sit up and take notice?

I found myself thinking about the word ‘sonder’ – one I’m using for my own writing at the moment. It’s a German word to describe the realisation that every random passer by has a life as rich and varied as our own. This seems to be what the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan wants to know, the rich complexity of the Woman in the Purple Skirt’s life. The woman always wears a purple skirt, it is possibly this and her set daily routine that makes people notice her. As she leaves her apartment every day she is followed and insulted by neighbourhood children, in fact she’s great entertainment for the neighbours who seem equally fascinated by her set routine. Every day she walks to the bakery and buys a single cream cake, takes it to the same park bench and eats it. No one knows who her family are or where she’s from. Her jobs are temporary, she lives alone and doesn’t even attempt to relate to others. She is an enigma, and the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan watches her every move, until she knows her daily routine uby heart. Even her appearance is intriguing. From a distance she could pass for a schoolgirl, but up close she has liver spots that belie her age. Her hair is dry, she lives in a small, shabby apartment and is short on money. She looks like one thing, but could very well be another. She’s different, but seems to have carved a life out in the world, something that the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan seems to find so difficult.

I thought it was wonderful to have two such complex and multi-dimensional female characters, especially where the relationship between them is the focus. There was a peculiar creeping unease built into the narrative. Japan seems to exude ‘otherness’ like nowhere else, a theme explored in the film Lost in Translation. I lived next to a Japanese Garden for seven years, where English plants and trees were pruned into the shapes of Japanese topiary. Stepping into it from my cottage garden made felt like entering a surreal and alien landscape. That’s a little bit what this book felt like. It was original and refreshing, perfect for if you’re in a reading slump, and a fascinating take on the thriller genre.

Posted in Rachels Random Resources

Being Netta Wilde by Hazel Ward.

An uplifting story of love, loss and second chances that celebrates friendship and human connections.

Netta Wilde was all the things Annette Grey isn’t. Netta Wilde was raw, unchecked and just a little bit rebellious. She loved The Clash and she loved being Netta Wilde.

Annette Grey is an empty, broken woman who hardly knows her own children. Of course, it’s her own fault. She’s a bad mother. An unnatural mother. At least, that’s what her ex-husband tells her.

The one thing she is good at …

the one thing that stops her from falling …

is her job.

When the unthinkable happens, Annette makes a decision that sets her on a journey of self-discovery and reinvention. Along the way, her life is filled with friends, family, dogs, and jam. Lots of jam.

Suddenly anything seems possible. Even being Netta Wilde again.

But, is she brave enough to take that final step when the secrets she keeps locked inside are never too far away?

I chose to read this novel, purely because I am a middle-aged woman who looks back to the nineties from time to time and wonders what would that girl think of who I am now? I still wear floral dresses, Doc Marten boots and big slouchy cardigans. I still listen to the same music sometimes, go to gigs and read, constantly. Of course there are times I think I’ve lost myself – that underneath the avalanche of life experience I’ve taken on a different shape. There are times life has been so difficult I haven’t been able to find the girl I was. I’m at my happiest when I’m close to her. When I feel we’re still connected. The times when I can’t find her and I feel completely lost, she’s still there. She never really goes away.

Annette Gray doesn’t know that. She thinks she’s lost her self. She’s become drab, miserable and as Gray as her name suggests. I thought it was clever to create a structure where the actual story feels dull and slow, just as Annette does. It just didn’t come alive at first. Then I realised what the author was doing. As we see flashbacks to her university days they do come alive like the bit in Wizard of Oz where Dorothy wakes from her black and white world to glorious technicolour. It isn’t surprising that she feels so drained. Under the pressure of a terrible marriage where all of her confidence was eroded, it was no surprise to me that she had lost herself. Colin, thankfully now her ex-husband, is unfortunately still playing a huge role in her life. Not only is he a spiteful bully, he has conditioned his children to treat their mother the same way. While working she has footed the bill for their life, while never getting chance to see her children or even put across what life was life was like for her. Even now they’re grown up, their Dad still influences how they feel about her.

When Netta is made redundant I worried that this was another setback for her and when Colin starts complaining about his hand-outs I worried she would crumble. However, this is where the book really does take on some colour and Annette Gray starts to find her inner Netta Wilde again. I loved the joy she found at the foodbank and the new friends she makes there. She also has time for a new hobby that brings her happiness and self-fulfilment – jam making. As a jam maker, I know the satisfaction that comes from a completed batch on the pantry shelf. Like Sophie’s mum in Peep Show, I like to give my batches quirky names that remind me of when I made them – Blair Resignation Plum and Downton Abbey Zingy Damson being two from my shelves! This new lease of life and financial upheaval really opens Netta’s eyes. She can no longer afford to subsidise Colin or her children the way she has, and when she realises she’s been taken for a ride, even more revelations come to light that made me furious. I was dying for the children to realise what a thoroughly unpleasant man Colin is. I also wanted them to see the real person Netta was, someone willing to give up her home to live more simply so she could look after others. Her fellow volunteers at the foodbank really do rally round and become the family she’s been missing for so long.

I think many women lose each themselves, because of the expectation that we’re the caregivers in life. Not just for children, but for elderly parents, disabled siblings and sick spouses. Instead of rebelling, we internalise this and blame ourselves for our rebellious and ‘unnatural’ feelings if we don’t want to do it. Often we don’t even stop and ask ourselves if the men in our family and of our age have the same expectations placed upon them. I think the book captures an experience familiar to many middle aged women. It is peopled with great characters and has a real sense of someone awakening to who they want to be for the next chapters of their life. Someone who’s still a little bit Netta Wilde of yesteryear, but brought bang up to date. The Netta Wilde for now.

Meet The Author

Hazel Ward was born in a back-to-back house in inner city Birmingham. By the time the council knocked the house flat and packed her family off to the suburbs, she was already something of a feral child who loved adventures. Swapping derelict houses and bomb pecks for green fields and gardens was a bit of a culture shock but she rose to the occasion admirably and grew up loving outdoor spaces and animals. Especially dogs, cats and horses. 

Strangely, for someone who couldn’t sit still, she also developed a ferocious reading habit and a love of words. She wrote her first novel at fifteen, along with a lot of angsty poems, and was absolutely sure she wanted to be a writer. Sadly, it all came crashing down when her seventeen-year-old self walked out of school after a spot of bother and was either too stubborn or too embarrassed to go back. It’s too long ago to remember which.  What followed was a series of mind-numbingly dull jobs that paid the bills but did little to quell the restlessness inside. 

Always a bit of a smart-arse, she eventually managed to talk herself into a successful corporate career that lasted over twenty years until, with the bills paid and the children grown up, she was able to wave it all goodbye and do the thing she’dalways wanted to do. While taking a fiction writing course she wrote a short story about a lonely woman who was being made redundant. The story eventually became her debut novel Being Netta Wilde.

Hazel still lives in Birmingham and that’s where she does most of her writing. When she’s not there, she and her partner can be found in their holiday home in Shropshire or gadding about the country in an old motorhome. Not quite feral anymore but still up for adventures. 

Social Media Links – 

https://hazelwardauthor.com

https://www.facebook.com/hazelwardauthor

https://twitter.com/hazelward

https://www.instagram.com/hazel.ward

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrmdeA7DKEXhrj6n


Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Being-Netta-Wilde-Hazel-Ward-ebook/dp/B0947351XQ

US – https://www.amazon.com/Being-Netta-Wilde-Hazel-Ward-ebook/dp/B0947351XQ