The Dilemmas of Harriet Carew – Cristina Odone

I don’t read The Daily Telegraph (I don’t read any newspapers, I tend to rely on the front page of iGoogle to tell me if anything particularly interesting/important has happened) so until I had this book in my hands, I had no idea who Harriet Carew was. Therefore I began this book with a completely open mind.

For those that don’t know, Harriet Carew began life in Cristina Odone’s column in The Daily Telegraph, Posh But Poor. She’s a thirty-something married mother of three who is trying to juggle her work, her home and her family. And she’s not doing too badly, except the Carews are skint. Harriet’s husband Guy is a writer, but he’s not exactly making the big time, and yet he is insisting on his children going to private school, which at £15,000 a year isn’t cheap. Currently, the oldest boy Alex is at a private school and the fees are draining the family dry. But things can only get worse, as young Tom is approaching the age to begin the same school as his older brother, and who knows how they’re going to fund two children at a ludicrously expensive school! Harriet’s happy for the boys to go to a decent state school, but Guy’s having none of it. His snobby parents aren’t helping matters.

So Harriet panics about the bills coming in, feeding the three children, clothing them and herself and so on. She could do more hours at the charity she works for, but she also wants to be there for her children, as she hates the idea of missing them growing up. Just as Harriet feels she’s drowning in poverty, she has the surprise of her life. Her ex-boyfriend and first love turns up at her workplace and announces he’s thinking of giving money to the charity. Over time, the two become closer and Harriet remembers why she fell for him in the first place. James is divorced and not bothered. In fact he’s revelling in his bachelorhood and is earning ridiculous amounts of money. He could offer Harriet the kind of life she’s always wanted, where she could live in luxury and not have to worry about the next bill to come through the letterbox.

Meanwhile, Guy is completely preoccupied by his “big TV break” and is hardly paying Harriet and the children any attention. He’s putting all his resources into the project and not paying any attention to his usual writing gigs. In response, people are starting to get irate and Harriet worries they’re going to take their business elsewhere, which will leave them in dire straits when the TV thing blows up in Guy’s face. So when James makes Harriet a tempting offer, she’s torn. Should she up sticks and go off with James, leaving Guy and the children to their own devices – be selfish for a change? Or should she stick to her guns and continue to live the life she’s made for herself? A crisis forces her to decide… what will she do?

This is a really funny book. The character Harriet is endearing because she’s so normal. She’s desperately trying to do the best for her husband and family, even shopping in charity shops to save the money desperately needed to feed five mouths. You feel a real sympathy for her, particularly when Guy becomes so caught up in his TV project because she’s having to sort out bills and things with no support from her husband. Harriet is the sort of lovable character you want to pull out of the pages and give her a hug! You’ll wish for a happy ending for her, but only reading it will tell you what happens, because I’m not going to.

All I’ll say is if you love humorous chick-lit centred around families with some heart-rending bits thrown in, you’ll love this.

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