Well, you cannot say that this blog does not bring you variety. After a week of spies, behold we are entering the land of retirement romance. Is there even a name for that yet? Silver passion? In any case, I am all for equal opportunities and everyone getting what they want, and it’s true that the elderly are poorly represented in fiction. And even as I typed that sentence, I wondered whether I was allowed to use the word ‘elderly’, whether it’s considered ageist and the polite thing to do is call everyone over 60 in their late middle age. Given that late middle age, by any definition, is a huge demographic, it’s a sign of our youth-obsessed times that we don’t see them around so much in books, films and television programmes. However, Jeanne Ray is here to put an end to all that, and whilst I wasn’t quite sure what I would get with this novel, it turned out to be an absolute charmer.
Julie Roseman and Romeo Cacciamani are rival florists in Boston, whose families have hated each other for many a long year. No one really knows why, but when Julie’s daughter, Sandy, and Romeo’s son, Tony, fell in love as teenagers, it couldn’t have been more West Side Story. The families kept them apart and the bad blood on either side grew steadily more toxic. But that’s old history now and decades have passed since then. Julie’s marriage broke up, Sandy married, had children, divorced and moved her small family back home, and Sandy’s sister, Nora, has grown past teenage rebellion to become a very scary real estate agent who knows not just her own mind, but everyone else’s too. Julie is content with her life, but there isn’t that much joy in it for her.
She’s at a seminar entitled ‘Making Your Small Business Thrive’ when she bumps into Romeo Cacciamani and they end up having coffee. Well, you’ll all see where this is going. The problem is not with Julie and Romeo, but with the fierce resistance to their relationship that comes from their children – all grown up now, of course, but with plenty of energy to carry the feud into the next generation. Before they’ve even reached a second date, Sandy is in tears, Nora is reading her mother the riot act, and Romeo’s sons are coming over to decapitate small pots of daffodils to get their point across. And just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, Julie’s ex-husband turns up to take a look at the accounting books and throw his fists around. Julie’s sure that if she can find out what caused the original vendetta, the families could make peace – but how is it that no one seems to know?
This could, of course, have been dreadful. But it is just so funny and entertaining, not least because it is so unsentimental. People say things like ‘I haven’t had this much time to think since I had my gallbladder out,’ and ‘I wondered what I could have been thinking of, asking a man to meet me in a store with fluorescent overhead lighting.’ Honestly, it’s a hoot. And the families are very well imagined, particularly sad Sandy and the appalling elderly matriarch Grammy Cacciamani. Jeanne Ray is very good at how badly families can behave, not just towards their enemies, but within their own clans, because there is so much less reserve employed with other family members than your average human being. Given that Julie and Romeo are the leads here and we’re supposed to be rooting for them, there wasn’t much sense of poetic justice that the ban imposed on their own children had come back to bite them, but no matter. The rivalry takes up more page space than the romance, and in no time at all we’re too busy watching roses get salted at dawn to worry too much about fine slicing the moral universe.
People, this is not Anna Karenina, or Shakespeare come to that, do not expect it. But it’s delightfully written comic entertainment, which can be hard to come by on rainy days. It is also very much a love story between two 60-year-olds, let’s be clear what you’re getting. I read it between a couple of very serious books and thoroughly enjoyed the light relief.