Wednesday, February 26, 2014

'The Generation Game' by Sophie Duffy

The Generation Game
Philippa Smith is in her forties and has a beautiful newborn baby girl. She also has no husband, and nowhere to turn. So she turns to the only place she knows: the beginning. Retracing her life, she confronts the daily obstacles that shaped her very existence. From the tragic events of her childhood abandonment, to the astonishing accomplishments of those close to her, Philippa learns of the sacrifices others chose to make, and the outcome of buried secrets. Philippa discovers a celebration of life, love, and the Golden era of television. A reflection of everyday people, in not so everyday situations.


Philippa Smith is a first time mother in her early 40s. While the hospital staff seem concerned about her baby, for a reason she can't initially get out of them, she decides to go over her own life story for the baby girl's benefit. As she relives events, she clarifies in her own head which were the most important things and who were the most meaningful people in her life.

As Philippa was born just 5 years before me, I loved the reference to the historical events which helped shape her life. Her story drew me back to my childhood and youth in the 70s and 80s. A prime example was the marriage of Charles and Diana. I clearly remember watching the wedding live on TV, aged about 12, and in the story, we see why it was such a big day for Philippa, on her 16th birthday. The book reinforces how current history, music and events, which seem to be in the background of our lives, really do help to gel our views and attitudes when we are young.

I could relate even more to Philippa as she got older, having also majored in English Lit and then decided not to take it further into teaching. I did lose my cool at her for a dumb decision she made in her 30s, but by then, I already loved her and related to her, so it was impossible not to forgive her.

I'm glad such a large chunk of the story was spent on Philippa's earliest childhood, instead of glossing over these years. Those were some of my favourite parts. Children can be very perceptive, honing in on details which adults either miss or have no idea kids notice. It also shows how things grown-ups may brush off as simple kindnesses, are shown to be significant in the eyes of children. I like that reminder that when we think we're doing simple, pointless things, we're really doing big things. Characters such as Bob and Wink are very memorable and lovable, just for being their unassuming, plain selves. Obviously, the care of one little girl was part of their noble purpose.

I'd be interested to see what other readers think of a massive twist toward the end. It'll be hard to address this without plot spoilers, but there's no way a reviewer can ignore it, so I'll be very careful. The twist was major, and I didn't altogether like it, because we had to suddenly alter our perceptions of several key characters, after about nineteen twentieths of the book. My first perceptions of them were partly what made the prior story so meaningful for me, and suddenly there was a huge paradigm shift. Okay, I can't help it, I'm going to include this spoiler.

Maybe such a strong storyline doesn't need a plot twist of this magnitude, as it steers dangerously close to solid characters behaving out of character. Can anyone else really imagine placid, dependable Bob doing what he did with Helena's and Philippa's mother in the 60s? He didn't strike me as the impulsive or Casanova type. And would a big sister as loving as Helena really shoot off overseas without saying goodbye to little Philippa? She came across more believably when I really did think she was a reluctant young mother, giving it her best shot after an unplanned pregnancy. And although I'm a sucker for a happy ending, did this one edge into the realm of fairy tales? Terry never really struck me as the type who would embrace the life of a doting husband and father, with Philippa and little Lucy.

Overall, a very evocative and well-written book which I didn't want to put down. The natural ebbs and flows of life are well shown. For example, people who do mean the world to us, even those with 'best friend' status, do drift away, for various, honest reasons. The story does a wonderful job of proving that we don't have do brilliant things to live a significant life. Philippa's story is surely quite similar to any one of ours.

I received a copy from NetGalley and Legend Press in return for an honest review.

4 stars

The Generation Game available from Amazon

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