I'm sure there are lots of people called Diane Paul in the world but imagine my surprise when one of them - from Akron, Ohio - asked me to review her new novel. In truth, my surname is the same as her husband's and her first name is Diana, followed by a Y but we both belong to the same international writers' group, which also happens to be her publisher and we both have an interest in Mindfulness and Buddhism. Diana has authored three books on the subject and she has a PhD in Buddhist studies.
Her novel is a family saga about money, familial obligations and guilt. Many of us would recognise some of these characters and situations. They aren't uncommon. Working from her mother, Aida's 80th birthday, the story unfolds mainly through the characters' back stories, so it's slow in moving forwards. In fact, the plot is static for a long time while we're given a glimpse of eldest child Jules's personal life with husband Mike and daughter Zoe and their dwindling finances. And it's all because she is expected to pay off her parents' massive debts and the cost of their accommodation in upmarket assisted care facility, SafeHarbour. They consider it to be her duty in exchange for the upbringing they've given her.
Sister Joanne's personal life and financial difficulties, caused mainly by successive plastic surgery on various parts of her body, are also revealed in expositionary chapters, followed by brother Andrew's marital history and some shocking revelations about two of his children.
To be honest, there was no other strategy for telling this sorry tale because we have to get to know the main characters pretty well to understand where they're coming from and why they can't go any further. Jules is left to make a choice between her husband and daughter's needs or continuing to bail out her parents and sister, despite her mother's ingratitude and narcissistic personality; her father's developing senility and irresponsibility playing the stock market; her sister's financial demands and the veiled emotional blackmail that goes with it.
I have to say I was hooked on the story as it unfolded and found it hard to put down. It's well-written for a start with plenty of attention to detail and a strong sense of place. The characters are amazingly well-drawn. It's almost as though Diana has written about people she knows, she gets into their innermost thoughts and feelings so well. I wondered if it was semi-autobiographical. Then I discovered she has a degree in psychology and philosophy. Perhaps that has something to do with her ability to get inside the heads of these people and understand their motivations.
Aida is infuriating and mean-spirited. She's totally wrapped up in herself and despite her financial difficulties insists on buying the best of everything and pampering herself to the hilt. She's totally unreasonable, is a master of the put-down and a thoroughly unpleasant woman. The only character who stands up to her is Andrew's wife, who gives back as good as she gets. The father, former doctor Bob Whitman, is a shadowy figure in the background who is incapable of learning from his mistakes. I wanted to get hold of Jules and give her a good shaking and was expecting one of the children or grandchildren to stand up and give this ghastly couple some home truths. But it's not to be and the couple never quite get Jules's dilemma in this charade.
'Things Unsaid' is published by She Writes Press. Diana can be contacted at Diana.firstname.lastname@example.org/ See her websites: www.unhealedwound.com and www.dianaypaul.com or Twitter: @DianaPaul10