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Constance Harding's (Rather) Startling Year: A Novel

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"A comic gem" (Alexander McCall Smith) about a housewife who kisses her chintz and her cheating husband goodbye
Constance Harding lives in a picture perfect house. She is, however, absolutely clueless about the real world, e.g.,
*why her twenty-five-year-old son still hasn’t found a nice girl,
*why her Lithuanian housekeeper’s thongs keep turning up in her husband’s study, and
*why her teenage daughter is dressed in head-to-toe spandex . . .

When disaster strikes, she flees her comfortable nest. Constance is about to discover a wider world she thought it was too late to find. And she’s putting it all in her blog-thingy.

280 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2011

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Ceri Radford

3 books1 follower

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5 stars
63 (12%)
4 stars
141 (27%)
3 stars
215 (42%)
2 stars
70 (13%)
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15 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 122 reviews
Profile Image for Carol.
153 reviews22 followers
September 14, 2013
I'd give it a 3.5 if I could. I picked this book off of the "staff picks" shelf at the library. It looked like something cute and light to read until something better came along.

Constance was sheltered and clueless through most of the first half of the book, but her naivete was part of what made her unintentionally funny. And although her life and blog entries seemed tiringly mundane in the beginning, when things got interesting later, I realized that the mundaneness served to set us up for the real story.

All along, I had fun reading "her blog" and missed her when it ended.
Profile Image for Lee Libro.
Author 2 books21 followers
February 7, 2012
The publicists at Author Exposure provided me with an advanced reader copy of A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford after I chose it from a selection of over fifty other books. With a clever title, a bold cover and promise for some British wit, I was drawn to it immediately.

Usually readers relate to a story through a writer’s craft with dialogue. Dialogue brings the character into the here and now, allowing the reader to be a spy on the wall. Getting into the interior life of a character takes a bit of finesse with just the right amount of narrative and dialogue. Imagine a story told mostly in narrative. Sounds static. Not in the case of A Surrey State of Affairs, which is written as a series of blog entries and indeed contains very little dialogue.

A Surrey State of Affairs is Constance Hardings’ diary, so to speak. She’s a fifty-something, church-going, bell-ringing, empty-nester, wife and mother who is naïve and newly initiated into the joys of computer usage. Blogging is a newfound outlet for her and thinking nobody reads it anyway, she posts her daily observations and frustrations as she strives to be appease, support and maintain her relationships including that with her beloved parrot. Think Bridget Jones’ Diary all grown up with the quandaries of a mid-life crisis in full havoc mode, delivered with the same humorous and endearing qualities of a Bridget Jones.

We, the reader, are Constance’s invisible friend, privy to her most private thoughts and yet as good friends often do, we see realities long before she discovers them herself. But she’s naïve and we care for her. From her attempts to find a good wife for her son, who is obviously gay, to her inability to understand why she continually finds panties laying around her husband’s office, her naivety might frustrate a lesser friend, but due to Ms. Radford’s exceptional writing, so well formulated with the dry, pithy wit of a Brit, we can only stand by Constance.

We celebrate when Constance finally wakes up and embarks on a completely uncharacteristic set of behaviors. Call it a mid-life crisis, self-discovery, all in all her journey enthralls us, keeps us tethered to her blog. We can’t help but read on because A Surrey State of Affairs is both entertaining and heartwarming. I highly recommend it if you are looking for some light reading or are a fan of Chick-lit or British humor.
Profile Image for Nancy McKibben.
Author 4 books7 followers
January 6, 2014
Constance Harding’s (Rather) Startling Year
By Ceri Radford

Constance Harding begins the year of 2008 with a blog, the suggestion of her son Rupert, who, the last time she phoned to tell him about her “ housekeeper’s blunders and the bellringer’s bunions” thought that his mother “might like to tell the World Wide Web all about it, rather than him. He is such a thoughtful boy.”

This observation is our introduction to the well-meaning but generally clueless Constance, the middle-aged mother of two grown children, Sophie and Rupert, and solicitor husband Jeffrey. I prefer my heroines to have a clue, but Constance manages to endear herself to the reader with her always generous interpretations of events that are obvious to everyone else. For example, noting her husband’s distracted air at breakfast:
Perhaps he is sad that it is time to return to work after the Christmas break, and that Sophie will be leaving for France soon. Or perhaps he is simply irritated by Natalia’s [the Lithuanian housekeeper] increasing slovenliness. Despite my reprimands, she keeps leaving her underwear to dry in his study, eschewing the foldaway rack I put in her room expressly for this purpose. Cluttered house, cluttered mind, I have always said. No wonder he looked so distracted. To make matters worse, the undergarments in question are made of some sort of unpleasant, black polyester material. I worry that they might melt and mark the radiators, which I had the handyman regloss only last autumn. I will have to have words with her again.
Blithely unaware of her husband’s cheating, Constance spends the year also oblivious that her son is gay, her daughter is running wild, and her colleague in bell-ringing is lusting after her while she fondly imagines she has successfully interested him in a formidable local spinster.

Eventually Constance’s ignorance comes to an end, and the author’s deft handling of her dawning awareness is another joy of the novel, which is very funny. I loved Constance, both in her ignorance and her enlightenment, and heartily recommend her - especially as a palate cleanser after you’ve finished reading something dark and angsty. With her proper English ways, Constance puts all the world into perspective.

Profile Image for Cheryl.
5,133 reviews187 followers
March 29, 2012
Constance Harding is wife and mother to two grown children. This does not mean that Constance isn’t still trying to meddle in their lives. Her daughter, Sophie, is a wild child and her son, Rupert has his own ideas of settling down and starting a relationship. Constance’s husband is too busy trying to avoid their Lithuanian housekeeper, Natalia and her under garments. What is a woman to do?

I found this book not as entertaining and as funny as I had hoped but still, it did provide me with some laughs. I found the moments involving Constance’s Lithuanian housekeeper, Natalia. The language barrier between Natalia and Constance was great. One of my favorite moments was when Constance attempted and I say the word attempted lightly, to explain to Natalia that she needed to dry her under garments in private. Constance even tried to draw a diagram so that Natalia would understand. It obviously did not work as the next day, Constance’s poor husband walked into a room with Natalia dusting wearing nothing but her under garments!

I did enjoy the idea of reading this book though the eyes of Constance via her blog entries. It was more like reading diary entries. The entries were short, which made this book a quick read. You would sit down to start reading this book, even if you may not fully like it but before you knew it, you could already been a third of the way into the book. Sadly, there was the down side of this book and this was that I found most of the other characters uninteresting like Constance’s husband or I wanted to spank Constance’s daughter for acting like a spoiled brat. This was a nice effort by Ceri Radford, on her first novel.
Profile Image for Lisa.
97 reviews
April 12, 2019
I loved this sweet story. Constance is hilarious. It is a beautiful, funny, and touching story told through a year of blog posts. Highly recommend this book.
January 2, 2018
After finishing the book, I had to look up Radford's bio; I'm assuming she's much younger than her protagonist and doesn't have a daughter Sophie's age. Her protagonist is 53, going on 54, but acts and thinks much more like my 76-year-old mother. (I'm 50, but great with the computer, and I can discuss in detail the success of 1D's members after the group's breakup.) Sophie acts like a five-year-old, not a gap-year kid, and in the age of helicopter parenting, I found it absolutely unbelievable that her mother would be so hands off. (I have four teenagers, and they label girls like Sophie "losers" and would need a hazmat suit to get within 10 feet of her.) I say this charitably, assuming that all the British upper-middle class aren't horrible parents or dissolute teenagers.

These horrific flaws in characterization are a giant distraction. You want to punch Sophie and lecture her mother. (Sorry, but even women my mother's age--especially my mother's age--would've been on to the maid in seconds.) We won't even get started with Jeffrey, the pater familias.

Whew! Thanks for letting me vent. I also know this is Radford's first; whoever bought the novel was certainly charmed by Radford's flair for clever wordplay and dismissed the negligent construction. Come to think of it, though, I remember Radford graduated from Cambridge, which probably impressed buyers--or perhaps connections were at work.

So why did I give this novel three stars? It's a great first effort. The novel is fast, light reading, absorbing, and definitely entertaining. I'd like Radford to think about readers' psychological needs more, though. We want big-time revenge on Jeffrey and Sophie, not slaps on the wrist. Hell, why not take up with the passionate Gerald? Why not have the young male housekeeper fall for his "boss"? Why not let the greying Jeffrey get a look at studly Carlos? Many readers have been cheated on or called "old girl," and they'd love vicarious revenge. It's a shame this book won't give it to them.
Profile Image for Ruth.
3,972 reviews
June 17, 2018
c2011: (11) FWFTB: Home Counties, bell-ringing club, party-planning, matchmaking, hat. A couple of pages in and I knew this one was not for me. I didn't like the 'voice' of the main character and since when does a woman over 50 have no idea of the Internet etc.. Shameless ageism and so middle-class, it made my teeth hurt. I had not realise that Ceri Radford is a Telegraph journalist and the character first appeared in that newspaper as a spoof blog. That actually explains a lot! She does not seem to have written another book. I didn't find it to my taste - but some of the members of the normal crew may enjoy the short chapters. "at the age of fifty-three, I have come to greet the passing of one year and the beginning of the next with a certain sense of jaded déjà vu. Party poppers and suchlike are best left to excitable eighteen-year-olds like Sophie."
Profile Image for Samantha.
4 reviews1 follower
April 28, 2018
A quick read from a mother's perspective of her life, husband, 25 year old son, and 19 year old daughter in their sleepy village just outside London. The book includes her trials and tribulations with technology, the ill fates of her playing matchmaker, and how a marriage can slowly fade into the routine. I found the novel witty & laughable at sections, the myriad of bell-ringer characters amusing, and the touching moments of a mother's love for her son. The difficulties of relationships and the necessity of finding oneself to truly come together as a couple and a family is the paramount moral of the story.
295 reviews
June 24, 2017
I was a bit disappointed as coming from Surrey I thought I would be able to identify with the characters but I didn't. The book is an easy read, it is interesting and the pace is not too fast. The story is written over the period of a year 2008, yet in many ways it seems quaint and old fashioned. It the sort of book I need sometimes when I have been reading very intense or disturbing plots and i need something to calm me down. Possibly a good present.
Profile Image for Lisa Withered Crone.
124 reviews14 followers
September 23, 2017
I could tell right away that it was going to be fluff and little much else. The synopsis on the jacket was misleading in my opinion - the getaway came much later than I anticipated and for me that was a major letdown. I was hoping she would get away much sooner. I guess you should shouldn't always trust a book by its jacket, eh?
Still, the ending was heartwarmingly sweet; which made this pretty decent fluff.
Profile Image for Sally Escrader.
45 reviews1 follower
October 24, 2019
I fancied choosing to listen to the audio version... to keep me company while I worked. Not much work got done today! Goodness me! The book, narrated most brilliantly by Jilly Bond, had me laughing out loud often and heartily. The listener is always a step ahead of the main character, which makes one shout at her to “get with it”!!

A gem of a book... made so much more entertaining by the narrator’s prowess.
443 reviews
November 5, 2018
This novel gets off to a slow start and just as I was about to give up on it, it sparked a bit of interest and made me want to keep reading. The main character Constance is so naive about her own family it is almost hard to believe but it does get more interesting toward the end when Constance finally wakes up to herself. Enjoyable holiday read.

Profile Image for Jay.
51 reviews2 followers
January 20, 2020
This book is a cross between Keeping Up Apperances and Bridget Jones. Absolutely hilarious and completely of the time it was written for someone in their 50s.
The references to peach and John Lewis reminded me so much of my friends mums growing up, we were a cream and Marks and Spencers family 😂
The plot was obvious but it had that nostalgic 90s sitcom innocence to it and I loved it.
225 reviews4 followers
August 4, 2017
A rather funny look at a woman who's insular life and narrow views compound any issues she faces. Reviews talk about her naivete, which I did not find wholly charming. Nevertheless, the characters are deftly drawn, and the writing is very goo indeed.
Profile Image for Linda Famous.
45 reviews2 followers
March 15, 2018
The version of the book I read has this title, although it seems to have been published under two other titles as well.
I enjoyed the epistolary style, in this case written as a series of blog posts. A creative way to resurrect an old style, and done very well.
61 reviews2 followers
June 27, 2018
This novel is in a format of a journal which spans from 1 Jan to 31 Dec. Initially, the story is quite slow and the protagonist is clueless about what's going on in her household. However, things finally began to be more interesting towards the end.
Profile Image for Phyllida.
811 reviews4 followers
September 27, 2020
This felt like a mix of Bridget Jones and Vicar of Dibley. I was after something lighter after a difficult read and this delivered. My only criticism is that Constance comes across as older than the character is supposed to be.
Profile Image for Will.
18 reviews
September 21, 2017
This is a perfectly pleasant book that is easy and quick to read. The characters are fun and charming and even if it all goes off the rails for a little a bit toward the end, I had a larf of a time.
38 reviews
August 13, 2018
I found the Blog genre really annoying. On top of that, I felt no connection with the characters at all. I won't be seeking other books by this author.
Profile Image for Beth Cope.
8 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2019
Not sure about this one. I read it all, but felt somehow uncomfortable throughout. The worldview seemed very dated... but maybe life really has changed that much since 2011
Profile Image for Stephanie  from Books Paradise.
116 reviews19 followers
September 2, 2011
Constance ist 53 Jahre alt, englische Hausfrau, verheiratet mit Jeffrey, einem angesehenen Anwalt und lebt auf dem Land in einem schönen großen Haus, mit einer litauischen Haushälterin, die mehr schlecht als recht ihren Pflichten nachkommt. Consatnce's Kinder, Rupert (mitte 20) und Sophie (18) bekommt sie auch nur noch selten zur Gesicht und damit sie ihre Kinder nicht ständig anruft und sich mit ihnen unterhalten möchte, haben diese ihr einen Blog eingerichtet. Seit dem bloggt Constance fast täglich. Schnell wird klar, dass Constance nicht nur schrecklich konservativ ist, sondern auch noch sehr viel Wert auf Schein einer makellos-wohlhabenden Familie. Und so kommt es wie es kommen muss: Constance will alles richtig machen und mach alles falsch...

Das Buch ist in Blogform verfasst, was das Lesen recht einfach hält, da die Abschnitte recht kurz sind. Der Schreibstil von Ceri Radford ist zudem recht angenehm und leicht verständlich. Man kann das Buch immer wieder beiseite legen und findet sich sofort wieder ins Geschehen ein. Die Charaktere sind gut gewählt und passen zu der "Upperclass". Die Protagonistin Consatnce basiert auf der Figur "Constance" aus der Website-Kolumne des Telegraph (Ceri Radford ist dort Chefredakteurin) und wurde für den Roman zur Hauptfigur weiterentwickelt.

Die Roman-Charaktere sind im Vergleich zu der, in der Kolumne, recht überspitzt dargestellt worden und das Buch nimmt dadurch satirische Züge an. In der deutschen Übersetzung geht das "very" Britische, welches der Deutsche Leser erwartet, leider etwas unter. Demnach wäre eine kleine Einführung oder ein Glossar, in dem man in die britische Upperclass (wie Einkaufsketten, Ausrichtung britischer Zeitungen, usw.) eingeführt / unterrichtet wird, von Nöten gewesen. Auch der deutsche Titel lässt zu wünschen übrig und hat mit dem originellen britischen nichts gemein. Im Klappentext wird nochmals extra auf "Gurkensandwiches zum Five o'Clock Tea" verwiesen, doch diese sucht der Leser vergeblich. Hier habe ich mich wirklich gefragt, ob es bei der Übersetzung irgendwelche Schwierigkeiten gegeben hat oder gar ein Teil vergessen wurde. Der Originaltitel A Surrey State of Affairs ist super und hätte im deutschen erhalten bleiben sollen, mit einer passenden Erklärung im Inneren. Surrey ist nämlich eine Grafschaft im Süden Englands. State of Affairs meint so viel wie Zustand / Stand der Dinge. Es dürfte also jedem klar sein worauf dieses Buch hinausläuft...

Zu den Figuren: Wie ich anfangs bereits erwähnt habe, sind diese vor allem Constance recht überspitzt dargestellt. Für die meisten deutschen Leser ist dies wahrscheinlich "too much". Aber eben die ganzen Geschehnisse und das Verhalten von Constance und nicht zu letzt das von Sophie, ist genau das, was das Buch ausmachen soll. Das Leben ist kein Gurkensandwich beschreibt das alltägliche Leben einer englischen Hausfrau der Upperclass, die nach außen hin ein perfekte Vorzeigefamilie "benötigt". Es ist allgemein üblich, dass es in gewissen Kreisen immer nur eine Richtung gibt, alles andere ist schlecht fürs Image und sorgt für Empörung anderer, auch für das sogenannte Fremdschämen. Constance einziger Ort um sorgenfrei über ihre missliche Lage und ihren verzweifelten Kampf ihr Ansehen zu wahren ist ihr Blog. Hier kann sie sich frei entfalten und ungehemmt über ihre Problem schreiben. Der Fortschritt hält mehr und mehr Einzug in ihr Leben und sie findet gefallen daran. Es macht großen Spaß Constances Leben zu verfolgen auch wenn manche Dinge, wie das Wechselläuten, uns doch wirklich sehr merkwürdig erscheinen. Die letzten 100 Seiten werden ziemlich rasant und die Ereignisse überschlagen sich fast. Aber Constance lernt sich selbst von einer anderen Seite kennen. Das Ende war recht anstrengend, aber auf Constances chaotisches Leben abgestimmt.

Fazit: Das Leben ist kein Gurkensandwich ist tatsächlich "very british", aber durch die Übersetzung und das mangelnde Wissen um den Hintergrund (Surrey, Upperclass, etc.) geht leider vieles verloren. Deshalb gibt es für die deutsche Ausgabe nur 3 Punkte/Sterne.
Profile Image for Marie.
8 reviews14 followers
July 4, 2011
Gurkensandwiches zum Five o`Clock Tea – der perfekte Nachmittag für Constance Harding. Aber leider spielt die Familie nicht mit. Der Sohn will nicht heiraten, die Tochter zählt Stichlinge in Frankreich, die litauische Haushälterin trocknet ihre Polyesterunterwäsche im Arbeitszimmer des Gatten. Es ist ein Skandal! Aber Constance lässt sich nicht unterkriegen: Sie nimmt das Leben der anderen selbst in die Hand. Mit völlig unerwarteten Folgen für ihr eigenes...

Über die Autorin
Ceri Radford arbeitet als Assistent Comment Editor des Telegraph. Das ist vergleibar mit der stellvertretenden Chefredakteurin für den Bereich Kommentar. Sie schreibt vor allem Rezensionen über das TV-Programm, sowie kulturelle Features.
„A Surrey State of Affairs“ ist ihr erster Roman. „Constance“ war ursprünglich eine Figur aus einer Website-Kolumne des Telegraph und wurde von Ceri Radford zur Hauptperson dieses Romans weiterentwickelt.

Meiner Meinung nach ist "Das Leben ist kein Gurkensandwich" eine gute Satire über die englische upper class und ihre Prinzipien. Constance Harding stellt hierbei eine gute Übertreibung dar. Diese Übertreibung geht hart an die Grenze des Ertragbaren des Lesers und stellt ihn so immer wieder vor die Wahl: Weiterlesen, unterbrechen oder abbrechen. Der Leser wird mit jedem Beitrag aufs Neue gezwungen, Stellung zu beziehen. Er durchlebt dabei an der Seite von Constance, oder sollte ich vielleicht sagen als Leser ihres Blogs die Höhen und Tiefen ihres Lebens.
Es ist höchst fraglich, ob jeder potentielle Leser mit diesem ungewöhnlichen Stil erreicht wird. Wer das Buch einmal in die Hand nimmt, könnte es rein theoretisch in einem Rutsch durchlesen. Es ist locker und leicht zu lesen. Wäre das Buch nicht so albern bzw. Conny zu Beginn des Buches so naiv, würde ich es bedenkenlos als Sommerlektüre empfehlen. Allerdings verliert es durch übertriebene Albernheit und Naivität für mich persönlich in manchen Passagen an Spaß. In diesen Passagen steigt der Nervpegel ein wenig an. Dennoch ist es eine durchaus gelungene Satire, denn das, was ich hier als Schwäche darstelle, ist die Stärke der Satire und folglich auch eine Stärke des Buchs. Eine gute Satire geht an die Schmerzgrenze des Lesers und zeigt (potentielle) Probleme auf. Das ist so ähnlich wie ein Zahnarztbesuch.
Damit erfüllt es voll die Erwartung, die durch die Leseprobe geweckt wurde.
Profile Image for Yvann S.
309 reviews16 followers
April 1, 2013
“I am still alive. That is about the most positive thing I can say about my current situation. Even this state of affairs may not endure: an obstreperous airport security official confiscated my water-purification tablets. Once, in happier times, I visited the Rodin museum in Paris. There I observed the famous sculture The Gates of Hell, which featured writhing, contorted, debased and demented human forms. That is what Ibiza reminds me of.”

Constance Harding is a little perplexed by the current state of her life. Her husband is a little absent, which may have something to do with the presence of a lithe Lithuanian housekeeper; her daughter seems to be spending a lot of her gap year not in France, not helping an ecological survey, and her son seems mysteriously averse to settling down with a lovely domestic girl. When her son Rupert sets her up with a blog to document her daily happenings, she finds an outlet for her thoughts for the year.

This fluffy little domestic drama is just the thing for a lazy weekend morning. Constance is vacuous, self-obsessed and unbelievably snobbish – and highly amusing. She seems to run into a large number of obstacles, entirely of her own making, and her son’s self-imposed exile to Milton Keynes seems very wise. There were any number of clever little twists and pieces of writing; Constance’s mystification with blogs, Facebook, mobile phones – technology in general – is very funny. Mark and Tanya moving in, and Tanya’s subsequent entrepreneurial flourishing, was a poignant interlude in the superficiality of Constance’s life.

I raced through January to May without any difficulty… it was only when Sophie’s adventures went from the absurd to the ridiculous and the village antics reached their strange peak that I tired of Constance’s self-indulgent tone. I’ve only given this 6/10 because I feel it’s too light and fluffy to get more, but it is an entertaining work. If this sounds like fun to you, you might like to check out Constance’s latest adventures – a blog on the Penguin website, with parenting advice for the Duchess of Cambridge…
237 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2016
Bei diesem Buch muss ich zugeben, hatte ich eine vollkommen andere Erwartung, als das, was am Ende auf mich zukam.

In meinen Augen handelt es sich nach der Beschreibung nämlich um ein lustiges und leichtes Buch voller turbulenter und verrückter Geschehnisse. Nach den ersten paar Seiten hat mich das Buch aber schnell eines besseren belehrt, denn die Protagonistin Constance ist einfach nur eine unerträgliche und vollkommen versnobte Person, die es zum einen unter ihrer Würde hält zu putzen oder andere sinnvolle Dinge zu machen und daher einen anderen Weg einen anderen Weg aus ihrer Langeweile zu finden versucht und ihrem Leben ein wenig Abwechslung zu verschaffen, der mich beim Lesen ehrlich auf die Palme getrieben hat.

In ihrer Mission gegen die Langeweile und gegen den Leser, da ich mich von ihr ehrlich genervt fühlte, wird sie in manchen Punkten von einigen Personen entweder behindert oder gar schon wieder auch fast unterstützt. Sei es ihr ukrainisches Hausmädchen, das zwar das Putzen vernachlässigt, aber ihre Reizwäsche im Arbeitszimmer das Hausherren, laut Constance, trocknet, und worüber sich Constance auch kein bisschen wundert, sondern nur die Unordnung bemängelt. Ebenso versucht sie aber auch noch ihre Kinder, Sohn und Tochter, wie auch einen Mit-Glöckner beim Wechselläuten und viele diverse andere Leute, zu einem ihrer Meinung nach angemessenen Lebensstil bekehren will.

Durch ihre extrem arrogante, weltfremde, naive und überhebliche Art bringt sie dabei den geneigten Leser, der noch dachte, dass aus dem Buch eventuell noch etwas werden könnte, schier zur Verzweiflung, denn man kann sich einfach nur aufregen über diese Person, deren schlimmste Albträume darin bestehen, dass die Blumendekoration nicht farblich zu den Einladungskarten passt oder dass sie einen Lebensmitteldiscounter betreten soll. Ich selbst wurde daher beim Lesen irgendwie immer nur aggressiver und hab mich gefragt, wie man so ein Buch nur schreiben kann.

Insgesamt einfach nur gruselig, denn das ganze Buch war einfach nur abgehoben und unlogisch und dabei aber auch nur in ganz geringen Maßen komisch, wenn es das überhaupt geschafft hat. Ganz und gar nicht mein Buch!
Profile Image for Christina Fixemer.
6 reviews3 followers
March 16, 2013
Constance Harding is a rather ordinary, proper Englishwoman of Surrey. On January 1, 2008, she started a blog. Her primary concerns: Why the Lithuanian housekeeper couldn’t keep her skimpy underwear properly stowed away rather than strewn about the house; finding a suitable girl for her son in his mid-twenties, seeing as he has not done so himself; wondering why her daughter must dress drastically and behave so improperly.

The blog runs precisely one year, and it chronicles the most eventful year Constance (don’t call her “Connie”!) has ever experienced. At the beginning, she is reminiscent of Hyacinth Bucket (“Bouquet”!) of the British comedy Keeping Up Appearances. Constance is quite formal and dependent on routine. As an outsider looking in, it’s easy to see the hints about what’s really going on behind her back, and that she’s quite oblivious. Or maybe that she’s so comfortable with life that these things just aren’t on her radar.

But never fear–Constance starts opening her eyes, after her proper British manner. Naivety only gets one so far in life, and this is the point at which it ends in her life. This tumultuous year in the life of a middle-aged woman is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes maddening, and always…Constance. There’s a lot of sweetness to her character, and it’s hard not to like her. Some readers might find the pacing uneven or slow at times, but this is in a blog style, and blogs rarely have even pacing. Even though this is a fictional blog, I give it slack on the pacing count for that reason.

If you love British comedy, especially Keeping Up Appearances, and if you like journal and blog style, then you’ll enjoy this sweet telling of an eye-opening year.

The reviewer received a free copy of this novel from the publisher. This has no impact on the quality or consideration of the review.
Profile Image for Sharon Redfern.
692 reviews19 followers
April 3, 2012
Being a sucker for anything BritLit, I enjoyed this book. Constance Harding decides to start writing a blog on the “new” laptop her husband gave her for the holidays. Right off the bat the reader realizes that poor Constance is pretty much clueless about her life and family. An example; the computer has an inventory sticker on it from her husband’s law firm and she attributes that to his affixing it on the laptop in a show of “corporate loyalty”.
It soon becomes obvious that Constance’s life is not the wonderful world she blog’s about. Her son is a confirmed bachelor who remains as incommunicado as he possibly can. Her husband Jeffrey seems to always be in a funny mood. Her sullen and slovenly maid, Natalia, leaves her underwear to dry in Jeffrey’s office. Last but not least, her daughter Sophie is a total brat who is going off the France, supposedly to study some sort of environmental issues. Constance writes about all of their quirks at full face value.
I really loved reading the little vignettes of Constance’s life and her observations on the lives of her neighbors. I kept picturing Hyacinth Bucket as I read all of the little nuances of situations that Constance had no idea were in front of her and wrote about in her blog. I could just see readers of the blog saying Oh My God! What was she thinking!
The interesting thing is that Constance ends up fooling us all in the end. There is more to her than meets the eye and Ms. Radford did a good job of lulling us into thinking the Constance was a one dimensional character and then Bang! Not so much.
There were some parts that were a little draggy but overall this is a fun first book by this author.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
124 reviews
March 22, 2013
This book was great fun! Radford has created a charming but highly naive, English woman who has resorted to blogging about the mysteries in her life over the course of a year. This was a suggestion by her son Rupert that "I might like to tell the World Wide Web all about it, rather than him. He is such a thoughtful boy." Through entries in her blog, we learn of her son's lack of interest in dating - "Ruth, Pru, and by extension, half the village are now laboring under the delusion that my son has leprosy. Not just any sort of leprosy: Rupert persuaded Roth he had a latent yet virulent form of the disease, which was activated by emotional excitement."; her daughter, Sophie, who is doing her gap year "counting stickleback at an eco lodge in the Ardeche."; and her husband Jeffrey, a tax lawyer with Alpha & Omega, who gave her the lap top for Christmas - "While I write, I am attempting to peel off a small obstinate Alpha & Omega sticker, which Jeffrey must have affixed to my gift in an absentminded moment of corporate loyalty." Constance also writes of Natalia, the Lithuanian housekeeper, who "despite my reprimands, she keeps leaving her underwear to dry in (Jeffrey's) study". What with her bellringing, attempts at match making, dealing with Sophie's antics during her gap year - " She was instantly recognizable, wearing a pink bikini and sombrero, with a cocktail in one hand and a can of whipped cream in the other, sitting astride what appeared to be a rugby player's shoulders", and numerous other situations she finds herself in, Constance's naivety makes this a wickedly funny book. I cannot wait for Radford's next effort!
Profile Image for Susan in NC.
877 reviews
May 14, 2012
I won't bother with a plot summary, as that is adequately covered above - although I think it makes the plot sound a bit more farcical than it is, and comparing Constance to Bridget Jones as a few reviews have done is a bit unfair. Both books are written in the first person as (respectively) a blog and a diary, but as much as I enjoyed Helen Fielding's book and heroine, I felt Bridget came across so much more desperate and pathetic than Constance! Maybe because I'm much closer in age and experience to Constance, I found Bridget's desperate man-hunting cringe-worthy; Constance is delightfully naive, endearing and generally sweet-natured if somewhat snobbish - understandable given her sheltered and insular life, and she's never mean-spirited or snarky. She tries to help and match-make among her children, friends and neighbors with the best intentions, but the results are often hilarious for the reader and confounding for our intrepid heroine.

Just when I began to feel Constance was just too clueless (the last quarter or so of the book), and I was REALLY ready to smack her obnoxious daughter Sophie and self-centered, uncaring husband Jeffrey (well, I wanted to do that for most of the book!), her personal life hits another snag and begins to unravel and we find out what our heroine is really made of! No spoilers, but I found the ending sweet and satisfying, and I would recommend this book highly for those Anglophiles who appreciate a warm, witty, but never snarky mid-life crisis story - I can't wait to see what Ceri Radford comes up with next!
Profile Image for amaya the cactus.
177 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2016
Probably closer to a 3.5, and not a bad book - but the saucier bits on the jacket description didn't appear until the final quarter of the story.

Constance Harding is a proper conservative upper-class Englishwoman. She's incredibly naïve and sees fit to fix everyone and everything round her whilst missing the incredibly obvious; and she's more than a little judgemental, spoilt, and oblivious.

These factors were off-putting at first, until I kept finding myself laughing at the absurdity of it all...and at the surfacing of frequent flashbacks of my own family.

As a reader, one desperately wants Constance to see sense, to stop meddling and attempting to control those round her, and to lighten the hell up! It's at first easy to enjoy the bits of subtle Schadenfreude that present themselves, but even that enjoyment slowly transitions into more of a heartfelt desire to see Constance turn over a new leaf and open herself up to the good in life so she can truly appreciate what she has.

This was a surprisingly entertaining book. Despite the final quarter moving at a considerably more rapid pace than the first three, it ended on a rather satisfying note. It also served to shine a light on my own behaviour and opinions, making it possible for me to examine how I might compare with Constance (and, if there are similarities, how to best overcome them! lol), and it served as a great reminder to take time to truly appreciate what life has to offer.
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