Saturday, March 13, 2010

Isabel Wolff Fest! The Making of Minty Malone, Out of the Blue and Forget Me Not

I've just been on an Isabel Wolff binge and read three of her books in a row. I often do this if I find a new (to me) author and like the first of their books that I read. It happened with Peter Mayle when I discovered his love affair with Provence and also with Bill Bryson when I set out with him on his journey round England - of course, I had to find the rest of their work because I enjoyed the first one so much. Paulo Coelho's another and Annie Caufield, Alexander McCall Smith and Helen Fielding are in the too.......I could go on!

So it was with Isabel Wolff. The first of her books I picked up was one of her later ones which just happened to be sitting on the shelf during one of my surreptitious visits to the local second hand book store. I'm not supposed to go in there! I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't buy any more books until my TBR pile was at least half the size it was on New Years Day, but, I just can't help myself! It is almost impossible for me to walk past the shop door without dropping in for a little look. I have even taken to walking a different route on my shopping days or waiting until the shop is closed to head back home, just so I am not tempted. Don't think I am mad when I say this, but, it is as if the books just call out to me, I really think they do and I can count on one hand the amount of times I have come out of that shop without at least one book in my mitts!!

Anyway, I digress,.........Isabel Wolff's, Forget Me Not was written in 2007 and is the story of Anna Temple who gives up a successful career in the City to start her own garden design company after she reevaluates her life following the shock of her mother's sudden death. At the very beginning of her new venture she meets and falls for a gorgeous guy, Xan, who is very dedicated to his own career. When Anna discovers she is pregnant Xan bolts through the stable door and life for Anna is forever changed, especially once her lovely daughter, Milly, arrives on the scene. All kinds of family secrets begin to come to the fore as Anna struggles to balance her new business, being a single parent and managing the grief of her mothers sudden death.

The next book I read was The Making of Minty Malone. Written by Isabel Wolff in 1999, this is the story of Minty Malone who is really a very nice person, hates conflict and finds it hard to say no to her domineering boyfriend and pushy work colleagues who constantly take advantage of her good nature. When she is jilted at the alter on her wedding day in front of 280 guests, Minty is in shock and is persuaded to go on her what was to be honeymoon with her bridesmaid instead. That fateful trip to Paris is the beginning of what is to become an epic year long journey of discovery which takes Minty on the road to find herself.

The third book I read during this Wolff fest was Out of the Blue, which was published in 2001 and is the follow on book from Minty Malone. Faith and Peter Smith have been married for 15 years. In their early thirties, they married very young and unlike most of their friends of a similar age who are just starting out having a family or just newly married, Faith and Peter have two lovely teenage children. During a surprise anniversary dinner celebration which Faith has arranged for Peter, her long time best friend of 25 years, Lily, makes a suggestive comment about Peter which sets Faith's alarm bells ringing about his fidelity. Faith's doubts set her and Peter off on a bumpy road which takes alarming twists and turns.

As you can see, I read these books out of chronological order and I soon found that it rather matters where you start to read Isabel Wolff's work as she weaves a number of common peripheral characters into all of her stories. Although her books appear not to be a series, there is a continuity to them that adds to the interest. These characters are in the background mostly, but, they do add colour to the landscape of the main story. As I started with one of her most recent books and then flipped back to only her second, I realised quickly what she had done and was surprised to find one particular character there at the beginning of her work. I liked that, it was interesting to see how she brought the background story into the fore.
There were lots of things I liked about her work and even if the outcome of the stories are fairly predictable, she does tell a good tale. The characters she draws do become likable, but, there was one thing I found really annoying; in each book she quotes words from common prayers or lyrics from a famous song several times and interweaves lines from these with the main characters thoughts....I ended up not reading the lines of the prayer or lyrics at all and just skipping straight through the narrative. For some reason this really aggravated me! Such a small thing, however, in what was a good reading experience, overall.

It became clear to me that Isabel Wolff's later work was much more thought provoking and tackled more serious issues than her earlier works did. The earlier books are definitely more frivolous and chick-litty. I found both Minty and Faith a little annoying at first and a couple of times I wanted to tell them to shut up, but, they did become likable nevertheless and grew on me as their story progressed. Anna was much more believable and I liked her instantly. It may be a while before I read any more of Isabel Wolff's work, but, her latest book, A Vintage Affair is definitely the one I would go for next.

Do you end up reading all of an authors work once you discover you like them?

Have you read any Isabel Wolff's work?


  1. OF COURSE when I find a writer I love I have to read all of what he/she has written - everything.
    I want to know all about them too. I wonder where their stories came from. I write stories and I still want to know where stories come from.
    An inherent need. Still don't know.
    Thanks for introducing me to Isabel Wolff.
    PS love the music on your site...

  2. Hi Barb, Isn't it funny how curiosity ignites once we discover a writer we like - I do the same with musicians and movie stars, anyone that I like to listen to, read the work of or watch on screen.
    You ask an interesting question about where stories come from - I have no idea, really. I used to think the telling of stories was a way of us being able to discuss a subject from all angles rather than from a fixed perspective, almost like writing an overview or a taking a snapshot of a scene which captures the whole picture and not just a fixed view. However, the more I read, the more I realised that the narrators perspective is usually all we get and that can sometimes be a faulty viewing angle......Perhaps stories come from a desire to understand. Perhaps we analyse something until we understand it's nature. Maybe that's why they occur to us, maybe not. Good question, though.
    Thanks for dropping by.

  3. I have only read A Vintage Affair but I really enjoyed it! Great reviews, I shall be adding these to my TBR pile! It's lovely when you find a new author to enjoy!

  4. Dot, I definitely prefered the later book she wrote, in 2007. It was as if by then she had matured somewhat. Her characters were easier to believe in and she tackled a couple of really big issues which I thought she did sensatively. I think you will enjoy Forget Me Not, it is a lovely read.
    I'm on the look out for A Vintage Affair. I'll keep you posted. BTW. Bought Angelology yesterday........will be in touch with you about it.