Coastal Cahoots Club by Victoria Johns
It can be quite a discovery that older people do not always behave well, with gentle decorum and wistful memories. In this jolly yet also moving book Tessa discovers that a group of older women, led by the redoubtable Winnie, can behave badly to get what they want, especially in great causes. In this memorable novel, tired, self conscious Tessa arrives in St Ives, Cornwall in order to escape her family and discovers a whole new community and the possibility of a new life. Fed up of family lunches, “the dinner of doom” where she is continually criticized for her weight and social awkwardness, and unfavourably compared with her siblings, Tessa decides to create a fictional hen weekend that will take her as far as possible from her Manchester home. Winnie is an older lady who greets her and invities her into her life, and the adventures of the “CCC – the Coastal Cahoots Club”, a group of women whose meetings are notorious for their textile products and bad behaviour at the heart of a close community. There are younger locals who also seem friendly, and it is these good people that suggest to Tessa that other opinions on her eating, appearance and choices are valid.
This is a book about how families, especially parents, can make mistakes even with adult children, labelling them and assuming that they are less worthy than others. It deals with body image issues in a very practical way, as Tessa is suffering from the vicious circle of being made depressed by others’ comments so comfort eats. While romance is an important strand in this novel, it sits alongside the way that a friendly and very different community can make all the difference. This is a book with comedy, love and the possibilities of beautiful Cornwall, and also makes some subtle points about assumptions about people and family dynamics. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this entertaining novel.
Tessa is a woman who works from home, which is, as she recalls in her lively and realistic narrative voice, unfortunate as it does nothing to help her social awkwardness. Her family contains a sister who is continually praised by her mother as a wonderful nurse, a successful brother, and another pretty sister who believes her good looks should ensure her famous and wealthy attachments. Her mother tries to overfeed Tessa, seeing it as successful communication, and is not interested in her as a person. In contrast, when Tessa meets Winnie and her grandson Ben, she is soon surprised at the different way she is viewed. Winnie’s gang includes the aggressive Mavis, and also the very different Cerys, whose gentle acceptance makes all the difference. Not that everything is straightforward; a temporary new life involves decisions and risks that Tessa is nervous of, and her family’s influence on her self image is strong.
I really enjoy this book, with its sometimes suggestive humour and positive picture of old age. The feel of a community is well managed, and I enjoyed the way that Tessa was accepted and made to feel valued. The family dynamics are well drawn, and I felt for the way Tessa is treated. The element of romance is well handled, and all those involved are positive characters. I recommend this book as excellent escapist reading with some deeper and valid points well made as part of a very enjoyable story.