Happy Hour – a review of sorts

Something drew me to Happy Hour by Jackie Byron, but I can’t tell you exactly what? It’s pink which I love. It may have been the sweet illustrated cover with the dog under the kitchen chair or the ginger kitty with the eye patch or the plug from Jane Harper.

Warning: Spoilers to follow…

It may have been that it is a story about a woman who unashamedly loves her space, her art, her companion animals. I will read anything with an arty theme and a love of dogs.

But let’s face it, it was probably that it is the story of a woman trying to find her way forward in life after the death of her beloved.

Frances ‘”Franny” Calderwood is just trying to get through each ‘Frank-less’ day while his killer pleads for her forgiveness from his jail cell. Frank, who sounds a little too good to be true if I’m being honest (because he is fictional and don’t we all deify our dead?), was taken from her in a pointless and completely avoidable way. It’s the pointlessness of it that really gets to her, I think, as she struggles to live her life without the man who had been at her side for decades.

Jacquie Byron writes beautifully and all her characters are wonderfully flawed and Franny is unique and very real.

Grief is the price we pay for love, Queen Elizabeth II once said to grieving families after a coal heap collapsed and buried a school. Poor Franny’s grief overwhelms her. She can’t move on because she can’t – and doesn’t want to – get over the enormous anger she carries towards the young man whose poor choices took Frank from her.

One of the reviews on Goodreads states, the reader detested the character of Franny. If only amateur reviewers realised their extreme dislike of fictional characters says more about them than it does the writer or even the character for that matter.

Franny can mix a mean cocktail and handle a hangover better than most 25-year-olds. I would drink more if it wasn’t for the after affects! Oh and apart from the fact that she cooks and eats a LOT OF MEAT, my love for this remarkable character is personal. Her grief feels so real.

I’ve always said any grief response is a valid grief response. There’s no right way to be sad.

I’m fascinated by the way Franny puts her grief at the centre of her life. Perhaps a 65 year-old could do that but I was 22 when Terry died. I didn’t put myself or my grief first. I soldiered on. I had bills to pay and a health crisis to deal with. I worried about how his death was hitting all those around me. I went to a counsellor, I tried a group (wasn’t for me.) I medicated, sure, self and prescribed, but I did the bulk of my suffering in private.

I read books, did workshops and was generally determined to magnify his short life and make his death somehow meaningful.

Even at 22, I was a big believer in Post Traumatic Growth.

I did assume people would cut me some slack, you know, realise I was probably not in my right mind at times. There were times I was a mess but if I’d treated people the way Franny does, they would have abandoned me. Some people abandoned me but hey, that’s life. People are there for a reason, a season or a lifetime and we had obviously finished playing our parts in each other’s lives.

If I could go back and change anything (the subject of my first novel, quelle surprise!) I would try harder to accommodate his mother’s messy grief. As the mother of an adored adult son I wish I’d understood (and been more understanding of) what she was going through. No parent should ever have to bury their child.

Jane Harper tells readers this book is “good fun” and while there were laughs and happy moments in the deceptively light story, I was on a rollercoaster the whole way through. We bring ourselves to the art we view/read/watch and the young widow I was nearly 30 years ago read this book along with me. “Good fun” it was not.

But I love Franny and I have decided if I ever I find myself in that position again, look out, I’m going Full Franny Feral (although hubby and I have talked about it and I’m going first.)