As someone who loves English people very dearly, I think I’m qualified to say: all of you are emotionally repressed.
It’s okay! It’s what people have come to expect. Sometimes that emotional repression can be used for good (see: Austen novels, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, the determination to drink in the rain). But sometimes it doesn’t go so well (see: the entire royal family), and sometimes it results in middling books like The Answer to Everything, a book that attempts to skewer the English stiff upper lip but instead feels as overwrought and bottled-up as its own woefully repressed characters, with no real sense of what exactly this book is trying to say.
We’re introduced to Emily and Steven, who move into a new estate and connect with their neighbours Elliott and Alathea. Emily is struggling with her role as a mother, only having returned part-time to work, and finds herself intrigued by Elliot, a university lecturer with an artistic streak. Emily’s marriage has been strained since the birth of her children, and the inevitable–Emily and Elliott having an emotional affair–follows.
Affairs can be fairly lazy fiction fodder, and in a book set in middle-class Middle England, it feels especially stale. Elliott is a character who wants to be a self-effusing, Hugh-Grant-esque charmer, and yet he just comes off as cocky and annoying. The text conversations between Emily and Elliott between chapters are entertaining, but fail to really establish much or move the plot forward. There isn’t much of a plot at all. There are some interesting passages about Emily’s experiences with postpartum psychosis–often unexplored in fiction, at least in a sensitive way–but overall it was a stilted narrative with no real conclusion or much to say at all.
I might chalk this one up to a generational rather than cultural gap–without children or a house of my own, these characters are in a different stage of their lives than me–but it left me feeling overall uninspired.
Thanks to NetGalley and 4th Estate for the free review copy in exchange for my honest review.
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