Review: Playing Away by Adele Parks

Many years ago, well before she was the author of multiple bestselling domestic thrillers with titles that just ooze with scandal like I Invited Her In or One Last Secret, Adele Parks was better known for writing saucy and ever-so-slightly dark chick-lit, with heroines that weren't always easy to like, difficult situations and, inexplicably, front covers that only ever featured pictures of somebody's legs. Playing Away was her debut and released at about the time that Bridget Jones's Diary was peaking. It was an era when contemporary novels pitched at a predominantly female readership were undergoing a reinvention. Authors like Sophie Kinsella were providing modern, funny stories. Marian Keyes was writing romances with a big fat slice of real life. And Adele Parks, well, she was becoming the author of her generation who was willing to tackle some taboo subjects in novels pitched squarely at a mass market audience.

Playing Away tells the story of Connie. Sexually adventurous throughout her early twenties, she is now fast approaching her thirties. She has married and is blissfully happy with--and loyal to--her husband. Luke is a good man, and they are enjoying a comfortable and slightly sophisticated upper middle class existence in London. And then Connie meets John. He is rough, flirtatious and set upon seducing Connie. Soon, she cannot get enough and the weight of her actions--her infatuation with John, who rarely treats her well and the eventual reaction of her husband--come crashing down.

Connie isn't a likeable character and infidelity isn't one of my favourite subjects. Somehow the author turns this into a compelling novel about risk and the experiences of women in the late 1990s. Connie is not fulfilled in her career and neither are her friends, each of whom are in different places in their romantic relationships. There is Lucy who is seeing a married man, Daisy who is about to get married, Sam who, though she tries to be everything a man could want just cannot find a partner and Rosa who has no idea that her husband is cheating on her with Lucy. While each story is interesting, I did find it a little infuriating that the author spent so many pages and even chapters on conversations that Connie had with her friends. Meanwhile, the nature of Connie's infatuation--her delusional state that what is happening is fated and her unwillingness to see John for who he is--rings so very sadly true. One of the strengths of the novel is the setting--it stands up well today because it is set in the late 1990s and there's no social media or smart phones to get in the way of the plot, making some of Connie's escapades more believable. My only real complaint is that the characters and their behaviour seem more in line with women in their late thirties or even early forties than people who are still in their twenties. Maybe things really have changed a lot in just under a quarter of a century. Also the ending is a little too sweet.

Overall, this is an interesting insight into bad choices and why people make them.


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