If my last read was educational, THE CACTUS by Sarah Haywood is pure, unadulterated entertainment, thanks to a clever plot, witty dialogue, and a phenomenal job done by the audiobook narrator.
Susan Green, a 45-year-old Londoner, is intelligent and independent, if totally lacking in social grace. Though she does grow cacti on her windowsill, the title refers to her own prickly personality. She is blunt to the point of rudeness and cynical of the motives of nearly everyone she meets. She doesn’t have friends, doesn’t go for drinks with her coworkers, has never in her life been to a party on New Year’s Eve.
Not surprisingly, Susan has never married. Rather, she has been involved in a long-term relationship with a man who is an art critic and wants a companion at the theater or art shows, but doesn’t want formal commitment any more than she does. They meet every Wednesday night in an arrangement so satisfying that those Wednesday nights evolve into late night sex.
Despite preventative measures, Susan becomes pregnant. She is horrified – believes she’s too old, too pleased with her orderly life, too dogmatic and unemotional to love a child. Then, in quick succession, her own mother dies leaving a vexing will, her troublesome brother starts causing, well, trouble, and she cuts off communication with the father of the baby, lest he think she deliberately trapped him – or worse, that she wants or needs his help.
The book follows her through the pregnancy, which has enough emotional ups and downs to become life-changing for her. Without quite planning to, she forms a solid friendship, unearths family secrets, and falls in love. Precisely because she hasn’t planned any of this, she grows beyond the rigid woman she was.
Those readers who find Susan at the start are simply too impatient or unable to read between the lines. I found her totally worthy of my sympathies, especially as the book goes on. And I loved the people who eventually become her friend. Watching her grapple with change in her life is alternately heartwarming and hysterically funny.
Given all of the above, and the fact that this book is not ultra-long, it’s a great weekend read.