Feb 10, 2014

You’re never too old

Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd

Hilary Boyd found success when Thursdays in the Park, a novel about a romance between 60-somethings, was published when she herself was in her early 60s. Yet sales really took off when it was launched as an e-book. We’re delighted that Hilary will be coming to Guernsey in May to talk about her writing, the ‘gran lit’ phenomenon and how digital publishing had such a major impact on sales of her books.

I already had a copy of Thursdays in the Park on my bookshelf – yes, the actual book – as I’d bought it for my Mum (I don’t think she’ll mind me revealing that she is a 60-something herself) and she passed it on to me to read. Once I heard that Hilary was coming to the LitFest, it was next on my ‘must-read’ list.

What’s it about?

Jeanie, who is approaching her 60th birthday, is married to George. He is retired and she runs her own health food shop in London, finding the time to play tennis with best friend Rita and look after her granddaughter Ellie every Thursday afternoon. The novel begins 10 years previously, however, when George physically rejects Jeanie and moves out of the marital bedroom – something he refuses to explain or discuss. When Jeanie and Ellie meet Ray and his grandson Dylan in the park, she soon begins to live for Thursdays. George decides he and his wife should sell up and move to the country. Does Jeanie have the courage to turn her life upside down for another shot at love?

What’s right with it?

The book cover and blurb suggest this novel is a simple romance, but there’s far more to it than that. First impressions are that choosing Ray over controlling George is a bit of a no-brainer. But George isn’t all bad – despite his infuriating habit of calling his wife ‘old girl’: he’s devoted to his family and the couple still have a laugh every now and again. And when we eventually find out about his past, we might be frustrated with him but we understand him a little better. Jeanie doesn’t want to hurt her family either, even though she’s wounded that her daughter seems to be in agreement with her father that Jeanie should retire. Son-in-law Alex is a complex character with whom Jeanie has a difficult relationship, which adds further interest to the plot.

Then there’s the relationship with Ray. Forget anything you’ve heard about ‘granny porn’ – in a novel that deals with abuse, secrecy and betrayal, the sex scenes are tasteful and I loved the fact that Hilary portrayed mature people as having the same feelings and desires as 20-somethings. After all, it’s reassuring to know that more goes on in bed than the sipping of cocoa and donning of bedsocks once you hit 60!

[caption id="attachment_297" align="alignnone" width="214"] Hilary Boyd (c) Liz McAulay[/caption]

Anything wrong with it?

Hilary portrays her heroine as a youthful pensioner, and there’s nothing wrong with that, quite the opposite. Jeanie’s refusal to see herself as ‘past it’ is part of who she is, and you only have to look at Hilary to see that she is equally young at heart. When Alex tells Jeanie, ‘You look great for your age,’ she feels slightly irritated: ‘"For your age" was probably Jeanie’s least favourite phrase.’ But it sometimes feels that we are reminded so often that she doesn’t look her age – Rita is very specific when she tells her, ‘You could easily pass for 48’ – that I couldn’t help wondering, would it have been ok for Jeanie to have an affair if she’d had grey hair and looked every one of her 60 years? Did Hilary fear her readers would be grossed out if the lovers hadn’t been fit and agile? Sixty isn’t even that old – is that our limit, however? Could we cope with a couple of sexy octogenarians? Maybe we’ll have to wait until Hilary is older to find out?

This is an incredibly minor point but Jeannie’s daughter is called Chanty and I kept hoping for an explanation so I’d know how to say it in my head: is it short for Chantelle, and therefore pronounced Shanty? Was it a nickname at all? Where did that name come from? I just might have to ask Hilary myself.