Book Review – According to Yes by Dawn French

First published, 2015

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

“Glenn calmly annnounces, ‘Miss Kitto will take the boys. She needs to learn where to go, and Iva can show her, you get off to work, Kemble.’

‘Awww,’ the twins mumble.

Rosie is politely and carefully inspecting the father of the twins, whom she is seeing for the first time. What a nervous, chaotic bundle of a chap he is. Heftier than he wants to be. Darkish, reddish hair. Puffy-faced and waxy looking. A hangover in human form.

Rosie gets up, ‘Hello, I’m Rosie Kitto, I’ll be taking care of the twins.’

‘Right. Yes. OK, I’d better shoot…’ he can’t wait to be out of the door.

Rosie quickly jumps up to stop him before he rushes out, ‘Um, perhaps we could grab five minutes to discuss the plans for the boys…?’

Glenn interrupts sharpish, ‘There’s no need for thay, Miss Kitto, I will outline the schedule with you. Kemble needs to be at work on time, please…’

‘OK,’ concedes Rosie, and then a parting marker across the bows, ‘later then,’ and with that Rosie tells mother and son that she intends to communicate with both. Again it seems, Rosie has, in a small but thoroughly decent way, countered Glenn’s authority.’

p39, Fed, According To Yes by Dawn French

The story follows Rosie, a primary school teacher, running away from her life in Cornwall to start again in New York’s Upper East Side, working as nanny to the rather stuffy, entirely buttoned up Wilder-Bingham family. While middle-aged father, Kemble, is going through a divorce, he is obliged to go back home and live with his parents – kind-hearted father but sub-thumb, Thomas, and withering ice-mother, Glenn. Nothing Kemble does is enough for his mother and, while dealing with his own fractious feelings and barely acknowledging the needs of his twin boys, Red and Three, or awkward teen son, Teddy, he feels like a failure.

Enter Rosie with a determination to make this new life work and a brave, if somewhat reckless decision to say ‘yes’ to everything that life throws at her. In mere moments, the darkened apartment with its closed doors and shuttered windows, is bathed in light, and as the doors open, so do the feelings and desires of the Wilder-Bingham family. The twins have a fine old time with Rosie, as do the other male members of the clan and it’s not long before Rosie is one of the family. But who is responsible?

Brace yourselves, there are spoilers. I know. I don’t do that, but I sort of have to in this instance. Feel free to stop reading this, and go and find the book.

Because the thing is this: I’ve seen other reviewers become quite scathing about the main character’s indiscriminate bedding of three generations and yes, when put like that it does sound rather aggressive. I’d point out, from this reader’s perspective anyway, only one of the relationships is intentional. One occurs because of sympathy, booze and Marvin Gaye, which, as a combination, would present something of a challenge to the best of us, and the final one – she was barely awake. Frankly, I’d have him locked up. So, in the mind of this reader, at least, the question has to be asked: is it because she’s in her late-thirties that this behaviour is frowned upon? Or is it because she’s a larger woman that perhaps we don’t expect her to quite so thoroughly own her sexuality? Perhaps it’s because she’s British, and therefore should be focussed on self-deprecating job satisfaction and little else? I’d like to think it’s because of the double-standard. I think we all know that a man doing what/who Rosie did would be torn to pieces in the media and at the bus stop, both. But I think all of that is getting rather too heavy for such a fun story and such a delightful, delighted main character.

Of course, it’s not all smiles, sunshine and bed linen. On page 195, I burst into tears so completely, I startled myself. I rarely cry at books, but this one got me in exactly the same way as the handful of others that have done it before – I had to look away from the page. Which is to say, I had to turn my head to look out of the window to examine next-door’s trellis and work up the nerve to turn my eyes, not my head, back to the page. As if it would hurt less to not look directly at it. For this alone, brava.

The writing is assured and dynamic. It felt rather filmic to me. Not only the use of strong imagery, but also the pacing, which was tight and well executed. Do I know why Nicole Kidman made a cameo? No, but in a book that says ‘yes’ to everything, the analysis of a moment of joy feels like a rather Glenn thing to do.

Go, read, be entertained.