A fairly recently divorced couple, their needy child and their two new partners spend Christmas together at the inappropriately named Happy Forest resort which is something like a Center Parcs. What could possibly go wrong? Basically, everything.
Matt and Claire are the parents of Scarlett and Alex and Patrick are the two new partners feeling slightly peripheral in the enclosed space of the holiday resort. It is easy to see why Matt and Claire split up and the disorganised Matt has found a logical, scientific partner in Alex while the domesticated Claire has found a powerful physical type in Patrick. Scarlett’s partner is an imaginary friend, a rather unpleasant rabbit called Posey.
It’s a definite strength of the book that the central characters are authentically drawn. Matt and Claire although apart are still carrying around the debris of their past and, at least to some degree, compensating for it in their choice of new partners. There’s also a lack of honesty around. Matt has clearly not come clean with Alex about how quickly he met her after his split or about the arrangements for this Christmas holiday. He is inherently untrustworthy, cannot manage money and just about stumbles by. Patrick is sharp and efficient but even he cannot own up about his intentions to enter an Ironman competition. Alex mostly wishes she was somewhere else as it becomes clear to her that she has been inveigled into being here and that she has been regularly deceived by Matt so that she can feel patronised by Claire, the perfect mother and hostess.
Scarlett is a horrid child, spoilt and manipulative but obviously loved by both parents who don’t seem to have made a good job of the parenting. Posey the rabbit is not quite convincing and gets made to carry rather too much of the plot which is a challenge for a toy rabbit.
Without spoiling the plot, it comes to a head in the archery field and throughout the story there are witness comments and interview fragments so that we know a crime of some kind is going to be committed. There are other events during the few days of the holiday, mostly opportunities for people to get embarrassed and upset or show off. The uneasiness of the whole event is nicely presented, particularly Alex’s feeling that she is being patronised and ignored and Patrick’s increasing detachment. You get the sense that the writer has been somewhere like this!
In the end, it all gets resolved with a bit more deceit and one couple decide to part, Matt and Claire are clearly not getting back together again and it sounds like it would be a good idea for Alex to find someone who is a bit more stable and financially established.
Some quite significant bits of the story don’t really work. As well as the imaginary rabbit, the witness statements appear universally to have been provided by idiots and miss the opportunity to provide another perspective on the party. However, if you like domestic novels and comedies of manners and misunderstandings it makes for an entertaining read.
(This book is to be published in August 2018. I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publishers, Orion Publishing.)