Wednesday 13 June 2012

Love, Housework and Happy Endings

My 1996 Penguin edition of The Rose
Revived, with its lovely cover painted
by Pamela Kay
There are those who dismiss Katie Fforde because she is a writer of romantic fiction, but all I can say is, they don’t know what they’re missing. And I’m not going to describe her as a guilty pleasure because firstly, it’s such a contradiction in terms, and secondly, one should never, ever feel guilty about reading. If you enjoy a book, that’s fine, no matter who the author is, or what the genre. And the same applies in reverse: just remember there’s no rule which stops you hating a book, even if it is written by a highly acclaimed modern novelist, or a great classic author.

Anyway, I digress. Fforde’s The Rose Revived is the final book in my loosely themed ‘housework’ quartet, and it may not be ‘great literature’, but it is very enjoyable. Desperate for cash, and emotionally fragile, May, Harriet and Sally meet when they find work at Quality Cleaners, but quickly discover their boss (‘Slimeball’) has conned them, so they set up business on their own, despite their lack of experience.

The only member of the trio who knows anything about housework is single-mother Harriet, brought up by her repressive grandparents, who not only refuse to let her pursue a career as an artist, but are also denying her access to her 10-year-old son at the boarding school they pay for. Sally, obsessed with her looks and weight, is an aspiring actress, whose relationship with her controlling boyfriend is on the rocks, while May, the chief  protagonist,  is an independent feminist, who bought her boyfriend’s share in their narrowboat home(the Rose Revived) when he left – then realised he had not paid the mooring fees.

Her efforts to keep her home are a key feature in the novel, and at one stage it provides a refuge for May's two friends (as well as Sally's bags of clothes), and having once lived on a boat myself I know Fforde's descriptions are spot-on, and am aware of just how cramped space can be, how precious the onboard water is, and how friendly the boating community are. 
Traditional canal boat paintings of roses, from

As their friendship flourishes, they all discover talents they never knew they had and, of course, they each meet a man... There is Leo, the artist with past, who lives in some squalor in a flat which Harriet cleans; Sally falls hopelessly in love with cash-strapped farmer James, and May  spars with Hugh, a hot-shot lawyer who is the brother of the head of Harriet’s son’s boarding school, and a friend of one of her clients.

The course of true love, as in all romantic tales, does not run smoothly, and there are  bumpy rides all round before misunderstandings are ironed out ready for the obligatory happy ending.  Each girl (they are in their mid-twenties, and I should refer to them as women, which is politically correct, but girls is much more apt) ends up with the partner and lifestyle that is right for them (even if it takes them a while to realise this), enabling them to fulfill their potential, and become the person they were always meant to be, developing their skills, and establishing relationships on equal terms.
I took this picture of boats reflected in the canal
at Birmingham's Gas Street Basin last month, and
I'm sure there are similarities with London's canals. 
They all find their niche, which in some ways, I think, echoes the themes in my last 'housework' book, The Home-MakerThe story is told with wit and humour, and is nicely constructed, with just the right amount of dramatic tension. Fforde is an intelligent writer, who creates sympathetic characters, well-drawn settings, and a credible plot that romps along at a nice pace. This particular edition, published by Penguin in 1996, has a great cover – a reproduction of a proper painting, Hannah with Teacup, by Pamela Kay, which gives it a feeling of gravitas lacked by modern editions with their branded wishy-washy pastel images. 


  1. I do love Katie Fforde's books and it is always lovely to hear from other readers who enjoy her writing. Of all the books where she tries the multiple protagonist approach, this is my favourite. In other books, I found myself frustrated when the attention strayed from one main character to another but in The Rose Revived I actually cared about each woman's fate (though, I have to say, I found it easiest to sympathize with May). And that cover is lovely - if only they'd stuck with those designs!

    1. Claire, I'm a late convert to Katie Fforde, and I really enjoy her work. I didn't realise these covers existed until I read a post by Elaine at Random Jottings, and then, quite by chance, this came into the Oxfam book shop where I volunteer, so I pounced.

  2. You're so right about Katie Fforde. I love her books & I describe her books as comfort reading rather than a guilty pleasure! I also love those early covers & wish her publishers had stuck with them even though her sales have increased quite a lot since they started using the pastel chicklit ones. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste!

    1. The earlier books with the lovely covers featuring paintings were published by Penguin, but she's now with a part of Random House.