My name is Jenny Taylor but everyone calls me Fanny. I admit, it isn’t ideal being called Fanny on a day-to-day basis, but it could be worse.
At 14, my friends and I did a turnpike road project for history (thrilling, end-of-your-seat type discoveries were made, as I’m sure you can imagine). Probably the most exciting part was naming one of our case studies Wan Kerr (I know, I know. Neither funny nor a remotely possible name), but it does at least explain why I found Jenny/Fanny Taylor such a compelling character from start to finish. For this is a novel about both staying young and growing up, and how they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Fanny is 27 and lives in a fairly dull town, brightened by her sometime-lover/housemate Al and best friend, Philippa, who saves her from the depths of depression by writing the Smiling Fanny Manifesto (Fanifesto?). She is perfectly happy, for the most part, being a doctor’s receptionist, getting lashed at the weekend and experimenting with fashion. Nonetheless, I loved how the two best mates form a sort of female Morecambe and Wise double act, making videos of the Tiddlesbury tour on which they take all their visitors, and these videos hint at the sort of ambitions which Fanny and Philippa harbour.
Everything changes when Fanny’s mum descends on Tiddlesbury, fresh from a break-up with her tyrannical husband and intent on Shirley Valentine-esque adventures. Holmes’ descriptions of Pam’s hangovers and romantic encounters are excellent, and they always stay on the right side of cringeworthy. We manage to sympathise with Fanny’s mixed feelings about her mum’s arrival, whilst still rooting for Pam amidst her much-needed mid-life crisis.
This wouldn’t be chick lit without a bit of romance, and it was refreshing that the novel focused not only on Fanny’s relationships, but also her mum’s. Truth be told, I found the romantic hero, Joe King (geddit?), a bit irritating with his too-good-to-be-true, sensitive Guitarman ways, although he is clearly Fanny’s match much more than her patronising, workaholic boyfriend Matt will ever be. And ladies? Any man who makes you change yourself needs to be dumped immediately!
I loved this novel (yes, it could have been a bit shorter), and would recommend it to fans of Bridesmaids, Sophie Kinsella and Polly Williams. And, of course, anyone with unfortunate sounding names……