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Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson
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Goodnight, Beautiful

by Dorothy Koomson

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Not really my sort of thing. Which is probably obvious to almost anyone who knows me.

This book has been nagging at me since last year, when it was on the bookshelf in holiday accommodation. Sometimes it bothers me that I criticise certain types of book without really knowing what's in them. At one time I read a bit of chicklit for similar reasons; sometimes it was funny too. Commercial women's fiction is the next lifestage, thirty and fortysomething characters with kids. (I should probably skip a couple more steps and go directly to the Alan Bennett stuff about creaky old ladies living alone, but anyway.) On the shelves there was a lot of Jodi Picoult and Susan Lewis (an author who sells a lot in the UK, though apparently not to people who rate books on Goodreads) - but at the time I'd become interested in reading more Black British authors, so it was the Dorothy Koomson novel that stuck in my mind.

I've ended up needlessly proving my own point to myself; in the past couple of years I selected a handful of books for demographic reasons - something I don't consider a good idea - with storylines I almost certainly wouldn't have bothered with if the authors had been white with British names, and didn't much like those books. And through this also, if anyone bothered scrutinising my ratings, made myself look an arse by giving low scores to a disproportionate number of books by BME (in UK parlance) writers. (Ghana Must Go, Gospel According to Cane, this, and sort of The Lowland, though I read that solely because of the Booker).

In Goodnight Beautiful, seven-year old Leo, who was born after a failed surrogacy arrangement between friends, is in a coma. There is a great deal of information withheld and gradually revealed, in first person narratives by his mother Nova, and Stephanie, wife of Nova's childhood friend Mal. Mal and Nova's neighbouring households were like family to one another - both helping to care for Mal's mother, who had severe mental health problems, especially after the death of her husband. Almost everyone expected Mal to marry Nova, including both of them at some points, but he ended up with the fragile Stephanie, who has similarities to his mother whilst coping somewhat better.

The structure of skipping about in time is similar to many literary novels - yet not so clearly despite this novel being targeted at a less educated market. Most literary authors leave subtle signals that there's a time shift before gradually making it explicit. Here there were times when I had to go back a page or two when it eventually became apparent that we were in a different year or month from what it initially seemed like.

A common feature of chicklit I remember was to give characters high level qualifications, whilst not making their conversation and thoughts reflect their knowledge and intelligence. That's going on again here. I'm not sure why it's done - is giving someone an Oxbridge doctorate like making characters unusually good looking? Fiction isn't exactly short of Oxford grads. And wouldn't Nova be more relatable for the average reader if she was a cafe owner in Hove with an average degree from an ex-poly, or an HND? Rather than one who had for some reason decided not to use a qualification that's very hard to get onto in the first place. Koomson hasn't even researched the qualifications well: a PhD in psychology is a different beast from a D.Clin.Psych. If she had trained as a counsellor - easier to get into, less academic, and cheaper - that would be a good fit with the character's self-awareness and be a more natural fit with her interests in esoterica. It sounds like part of the reason is the spurious point that the doctorate enables the character to access medical journals to read obsessively about her son's illness. But simply being able to access her old university library, regardless of subject, could allow that.

Aside from Nova, most other characters barely have any interests and ideas apart from their relationships with one another, and even their jobs are names rather than part of them. It makes them rather two-dimensional. And Mal's personality was always a bit fuzzy and inconsistent, seemingly a tool of the plot rather than the sort of human being who's a rock to others.

My overall impression for too much of the book was 'unconvincing'. Which is hard to argue substantially, not having known people in their unusual and tragic circumstances, but it's the sum of many little things in the text.

The story of Nova and Mal's childhood was interesting though, and the 'present day' stuff rang truer and more profound in some scenes towards the end, and I thought Koomson wrote very well about grief. However, often this was the book equivalent of a chart ballad, banal and humourless yet emotionally very highly charged. But at least it has the decency to stay within the confines of its covers, and unlike a Leona Lewis song, you won't be ambushed by its anguish whilst buying lightbulbs in Woolworths.

And since I've started reading quite a bit of crime fiction, I no longer feel like such a terrible snob for disliking something like this - it just isn't my sort of popular fiction. ( )
  antonomasia | Nov 17, 2014 |
I cannot breathe after reading this book, my nose is stuffy, my head hurts! Why do people write books like this? Why do I read them?

Seriously, this is painful on a slew of levels.

I'm angry with the ending, I don't expect that it would be a HEA, but shit! To have a second chance at being a parent and to be robbed of it; don't like that. Oh yeah, Stephanie should get punched in the face and Mal needs to grow a fucking pair. ( )
  mearias | Sep 23, 2013 |
Wow. What a book. I was really enjoying this story and I think I enjoyed it so much more than maybe others because i did not know what this book was about. Had not read the back so I was very surprised and wondered what had happened.
Thought this was very different than the other books I'd read. Not all sweet and nice. There was one moment though that really pissed me off.

When he did this to her, Mal, and she finally speaks to him, he then asks her to make love? WTH! Totally ridiculous and believable and then shge was even contemplating it? Come one and later they did have sex just to forget the pain for a moment. Sorry that part was stupid.

I did like that it did not have a happy end although i would have loved to see Stephanie go through a bit more abuse from .. and the same for Mal. What they did was disgusting and appalling and here is Nova, just forgiving them? sure. Also that her fmaily does not ask any questions, well only at the start why she and Mal don't speak to each other for 7 years, weird.

great book. This was the second book I'd read by this author. First one was The Chocolate Run and I have Marshmallows for Breakfast on my TBR pile. ( )
  Marlene-NL | Apr 12, 2013 |
I found the writing style was similar to Rosamund Lupton's in that the plot worked backwards from almost the end event to how the story got to its ending. Beautifully written, keeping the reader interested with a sound plot and great characters. Whether you loved Nova or hated Stephanie, you were given good reason to make your own character judgements. I would recommend this book to everyone and I can't wait to read more from Ms Koomson. ( )
  booketta | Aug 22, 2012 |
I liked this book, but I did not love it. It is the second one of hers I have read. I read The woman he loved before and really became engrossed in it and liked the twist at the end.. This one was a little more confusing to read with different characters telling their stories in the different chapters without a title to say who was speaking. it was a sad book about Nova who agrees to have a baby for her best freind Mal and his wife. However Mal's wife changes her mind and Nova is left to have and bring up the child which causes problems with her relationship. Mal is not allowed to see the child at all until suddenly he becomes seriously ill and Nova relents and lets him see the child. This will not put me off reading another of her books. I will give another one a go!
  kiwifortyniner | Jan 10, 2012 |
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Nova Kumalisi would do anything for her closest friend, Mal Wacken. She owes him her life. So, when he asked her to be the surrogate mother for him and his wife, in spite of her fears about how it would alter their friendship, Nova agreed. Eight years later, Nova is bringing up their son alone, and she and Mal don't speak.… (more)

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