The Family Gift by Cathy Kelly
Freya Abalone is a successful television chef. On the outside, her life looks great. She has a loving husband, a new house, three beautiful children, and is semi-successful at social media… but on the inside, she is eaten up by The Fear. This fear has taken her over ever since she was violently mugged months earlier. Now she’s addicted to sleeping tablets and avoiding the Victim Support Group which her doctor tells her she should be going to. It’s not only that either. It’s her inner voice that is always telling her that she is not good enough. Not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not good enough at caring for her kids, etc, etc. She’s even given her inner voice a name – Mildred. An interesting choice, and even Freya isn’t quite sure where it came from. It certainly adds a touch of humour!
Freya is a Bridget Jones-esque character in terms of her estimation of her own abilities and her internal dialogue with herself. However, Freya and Bridget certainly differ in their cooking skills. In the space of a few sentences Freya whipped up yet another fantastic meal, leaving me gasping enviously at her skills and wishing I could take a bite!
What stood out to me about this book and really gripped me was that it wasn’t only about Freya’s problems. We are immersed in the world of Freya’s family and friends, each with their own story and equally deserving of our attention. Freya recognises the problems of her mother, a caregiver to Freya’s father who has had a life-altering stroke, and those of her younger sister Scarlett who is desperate for a child. Freya’s own life isn’t made any easier by the fact that her husband Dan’s ex-wife Elisa and his daughter Lexi’s birth mother is back on the scene. Frailties, anger and fear aside, Freya still has time to see Lexi’s point of view, to see the world in a wider way, from others’ perspectives. Mothers do that and family means doing things for others, and sticking together, a reminder in today’s world where we often live far apart. The book gives a sense of family connection.
Cathy Kelly is an Irish writer who needs no introduction, having published popular novels for the last twenty years. This is the first time I have read a Cathy Kelly book, having avoided them before as I didn’t think they were my thing. But I will be the first to say that books about emotions aren’t to be sniffed at, and neither are happy endings. The humour, and humanity of the endearing and all too imperfect Freya acknowledges that we don’t have to keep up the Instagram perfect life and that domestic dramas are the stuff of daily life. Happy endings can be messy, but there is happiness to be found. I enjoyed being able to recognise, laugh at and cry with the characters and situations in this novel, and involve myself in the emotion of it all.
The only thing this book is lacking is the recipe for Freya’s ‘Fear of the Dark Chocolate Cake’. My mouth is watering for a slice. Hint: when you read this book, make sure you have chocolate cake or some other delectable creation at hand.
Reviewer: Susannah Whaley
Hachette, RRP 34.99