Of course, locations like Paris, New York and Rome feature regularly in literature. Bedford [UK] makes an appearance less often. Stephen May is originally from this sleepy county town and Bedford’s very ‘interesting’ bank-turned-pub, The Banker’s Draft, and its rather wonderful pizzeria, Sataniello’s, both make guest appearances in his third novel, Wake Up Happy Every Day.
This is a modern day morality tale and it’s fair to say that you have to suspend disbelief for the basic premise of the story to work.
Nicky has always been jealous of Russell, his old school friend from Bedford. Russell has made it big and lives a movie star existence in San Francisco.When Russell drops dead during a visit from Nicky and his wife, Sarah, they decide that Nicky can take on Russell’s identity…..and money.What ensues is a joyously comic romp through modern life, its contradictions and hypocrisy.
The story is told through the eyes of six seemingly unconnected characters all set on a collision course with each other. It’s hard to say much more without giving away the book’s surprises. Despite the fairy tale start to the story, each of the characters are themselves entirely believable and all give a different perspective on everyday dilemmas.
Along the way, May has sharp observations to make on Nicky’s previous jobs as a teacher and also as a lowly local authority bureaucrat :
‘ And you’ll want a key to the terminology: Outstanding means doing OK, while Developing means doing a bit shit. There’s an alternative language in place in local government but the key that unlocks it is a simple one. Nearly everything equals shit. Developing means shit. Challenging means shit. Problematic means utterly, impossibly, emphatically shit. Although Challenging and Problematic are generally words we reserve for the general public and their insane ways.’
On relationships between men and women :
‘ What are you thinking?’
Ah, Sarah is employing the four most loaded words you can have in a long-term relationship.
I counter them with the three most important.
‘It doesn’t matter.’
And even on studying Victorian women novelists :
‘Her days with minor Victorian women novelists are actually quite congenial. Like spending her time with a gang of eccentric, waspishly gossipy aunts. Mostly they take the genteel piss out of vicars while fantasising about getting off with the landed gentry. They’re quite modern really.’
So what is the moral ? Well, we none of us know how long we have and real happiness comes from the little things in life….most of all our children.
Nicky reflects :
‘Yes, fucking up often turns out to be the best thing long term. We should all of us be more relaxed about mistakes I think. Mistakes often save us from something worse. Often much, much worse.’
The tale is lightly and humorously told and is a really pleasurable feel-good read.
My thanks to Stephen May and Bloomsbury for the review copy.