by Julia Crouch
Time must be set aside for the reading of CUCKOO. This novel does not allow interruption: it commands the reader's absolute attention. Julia Crouch's psychological drama moves too swiftly for the reader to keep jumping up and getting on with other things.
The story ranges widely from cocaine fuelled high living in London to middle class rural Wiltshire and from Goldsmiths University to the Greek Island of Karpathos. It is a nail-biting domestic drama that unfolds, surprisingly, in a large old house in a Cotswolds hamlet.
Rose and Polly have been inseparable since attending primary school in a well-shod area of Brighton. The story follows them through their university love affairs, and later, marriage and motherhood. But they are completely different in character. Rose tries successfully to draw a veil over her past and be a conventional wife and mother, but she is always teetering on the edge of the glamorous lifestyle of Polly, whose fame as a mood singer and whose unstable existence and sexual competence seem to attract every man within range. Skinny and scruffy and addicted to drugs though she is, Polly has an insatiable appetite for everything except food.
When Polly is suddenly widowed and made friendless by unforgiving relations-in-law in Karpathos, Rose overcomes her husband's objections and insists on making the annexe to their large and comfortable Wiltshire house a temporary home from home for Polly and her two small boys. "Aha," you say, "big mistake!" And to some extent you are right. But the friendship between the two women is more powerful than cynics like you would expect. In fact, the more severe the ensuing domestic drama and betrayal becomes, and the more bizarre the behaviour, the closer they are bound by circumstance and sentiment.
The story weaves in and out of an intriguing and convoluted plot. Nothing is ever quite as it seems. But Crouch's excellent sense of place is so immediate, and her characterisation so flawless, that however unusual the surroundings and the behaviour of her cast, the reader is left in no doubt that he or she is at the scene. The dialogue is clever, if sometimes slyly beady, and there are some questions that almost any reader might ask, like what does a hotpants like Polly DO with Thai beads? But it rings true no matter what, and the wellbeing of the children is a constant worry.
So take CUCKOO on holiday, or a long journey, or on honeymoon, or to hospital, or wherever time can be made to stand still long enough for your disbelief to be at least dangled for a while. This book is one of those absolutely believable novels of which good fiction should always consist.
CUCKOO is published by Headline