Sally’s son Dan has come back home after completing his performing arts degree. He needs rent-free accommodation, a love life, and somewhere to perform his arts. Sally herself is taking a career break from teaching English. She’s tired of teaching year eleven pupils about the Mockingbird. She wants to kill the bird and stuff it with all the redundant apostrophe’s’ she’s ever seen in twenty years of marking essays. She needs a rest. She does not need her son, his current girlfriend, his previous girlfriend and his old school friend to move in and share her kitchen and their lives with her.
Sally could seek out her own friends to let off steam, but her friends prefer her to keep her steam to herself, otherwise it’s difficult to see their own problems clearly. Sally’s husband is a politician. A tranquil, unexceptional home-life would work well for him and his career, but Sally has stumbled into the media spotlight…
There are times when I feel the need to read something completely different to my usual go to genres. Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters by Jane Ions fit the bill perfectly and turned out to be exactly what I needed. It’s a brilliantly funny novel, but one that also makes astute observations about human nature and life in general.
The main protagonist is Sally Forth, and if her name alone doesn’t bring a smile to your face then this might not be the book for you. Sally is at a time in her life when she should be able to use her time for herself. She’s taking a career break and is working part time as a teaching assistant having taught English for many years. Her own children are now grown up, although it quickly becomes apparent that they are nowhere near to being independent. And yet, at a time when she should be able to relax, engage in a new hobby, meet up with friends etc. she seems to be constantly drawn into the problems of others. With an ever-increasing household to manage thanks to her son Dan and his trail of girlfriends and friends who seem content to linger around the place – with or without Dan being there – she has no time for herself at all.
And so that’s my job. I have to steady the ship through domestic waters; brace for potential squalls and discipline the younger crew members. I am also in charge of metaphors.
I think there’s an expectation that – once children reach a certain age – they will no longer be so reliant upon their parents. That hasn’t yet happened for Sally, and to say that’s she’s taken for granted doesn’t even begin to cover it. Dan has finished university but is now homeless and jobless and needs somewhere to stay. Rather than moving into his old room, he decides to build an extension to the property, made entirely from recycled materials. However noble an idea it is, it’s undesirable to Sally and her husband, and yet the “development” goes up – they want to support their children, whatever ideas they’re pursuing. And her daughter Laura – now a mother herself – often needs Sally’s help and advice as the realities of motherhood begin to sink in. One can’t help but appreciate the irony of Laura asking her mum when she felt she got her own life back after having children.
I’ve heard of existential crises of course. But I never imagined that I would be clever enough to have one of my own.
Sally comes across as being laid-back and caring, and yet – as the number of plates she has to keep spinning continues to increase – it’s clear that she’s becoming more than a little fed up with all the demands on her time that leave her unable to pursue any interests of her own. This situation isn’t helped at all by Sally’s knack of getting herself into awkward situations. There’s the incident at the supermarket that Sally is drawn into that sparks media interest, as well as Sally inadvertently giving her neighbour the idea of poisoning their husband. It’s a busy life, and yet one that isn’t necessarily fulfilling for Sally – she wants to help others, but not to the point at which she can’t do anything for herself. And that is something that Sally herself is beginning to realise…
Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters touches upon the many ups and downs that life throws at us whatever our age. It’s intelligent and full of humour that had me chuckling throughout. Recommended.
Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters is published by Bluemoose Books and is available now in paperback and eBook.