The next step for Slummy Mummy

PUBLISHED: 12:10 15 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:11 07 September 2010

Hampstead mum-of-three Fiona Neill has hilariously skewered the peculiar demands of metropolitan maternity in her Times slummy mummy column. Neill s chaotic, endearing anti-heroine Lucy Sweeney became a Bridget Jones-style phenomenon in her hugely enjoyab

Hampstead mum-of-three Fiona Neill has hilariously skewered the peculiar demands of metropolitan maternity in her Times slummy mummy column.

Neill's chaotic, endearing anti-heroine Lucy Sweeney became a Bridget Jones-style phenomenon in her hugely enjoyable debut 2007 novel The Secret Diary Of A Slummy Mummy.

Neill told the Ham&High at the time that she wanted to undermine pernicious expectations as former career women-turned-mothers tried to be perfect cooks, perfect parents and a perfect size eight.

But after shifting thousands of copies and earning high praise for its observant wit, it inevitably spawned a slew of paler mum-lit imitations which have turned the failed domestic goddess into a tired cliche.

Small wonder that, despite being set among the same section of white, middle-class creative/ wealthy types (this time in Notting Hill and Kensal Rise), Neill's second novel veers away from slummy mummy in tone.

Aside from some contrived comic moments (a drunken urbanite on a country weekend encounters a bull, ho, ho), Friends, Lovers And Other Indiscretions (Arrow, £12.99), is a more thoughtful meditation on how friendships change through time as a group of former university chums with a tangled sexual history deal with parenthood, success, fidelity, secrets and failure.

There are worthwhile nuggets of insight and observation. But they are mired in verbiage that makes what should be page-turning popular fiction like a wade through treacle.

I took to skipping through pages of research about foraged food or nonsense about "perfect couple" Sam and Laura's kids to get to the next plot development.

In Neill's eagerness to be serious she has tediously over-written her character set-ups, while somehow managing to under-write their complexity.

It takes an age to bring the group together and, when she does, what a cliched old shower of unsympathetic whingers they are.

Sam, the failed daytime TV scriptwriter, manages to show none of the insight or wit that will lead him to pen a Hollywood film by the end.

Sexy organic farmer Hannah smokes enigmatically before running off with the sexy farmhand. Sexy war photojournalist Patrick is restless and depressed but otherwise oblique, and guess what? Sexy unfaithful restaurant owner Jonathan gets his come-uppance at the end just as perfect, sensible neurologist Laura totters off her pedestal.

You can see most of it coming a mile off; of course hateful, controlled corporate lawyer Janey is going to be floored by the chaos of giving birth.

In Neill's previous exaggerated comedy style, she would have rendered Janey both hilarious and touching. Here she is neither.

These half-baked privileged types with their small-time concerns about careers and shagging, simply don't stand up to Neill's scrutiny.

Friends, Lovers is, however, worth sticking with for the final showdown holiday on the Scottish island of Coll.

Here Neill finally brings her themes together with some genuine situation comedy to show what the book might have been with more ruthless editing.


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