Wednesday 8 August 2018

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

35660304Title: The Cactus
Author: Sarah Haywood
Format: Hardback
Source: Received from the publisher for an honest review
Pages: 384
Rating: 5/5

People aren't sure what to make of Susan Green - a prickly independent woman, who has everything just the way she wants it and who certainly has no need for messy emotional relationships.
Family and colleagues find her stand-offish and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that's all she needs.
At forty-five, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward - a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits.
Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan's greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control.
When she discovers that her mother's will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.
This sparkling debut is a breath of fresh air with real heart and a powerful emotional punch. In Susan we find a character as exasperating and delightful as The Rosie Project's Don Tillman. An uncompromising feminist and a fierce fighter, it's a joy to watch her bloom.

This is one of the weirdest reviews to write. Because I loved this book, wholeheartedly. But it's like nothing I've ever read before. And not in a completely-baffling-Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole kinda way. But just, I have never read a character with the perspective Susan had who at the same time felt super relatable. This line from the blurb massively resonates with me and describes my whole experience with the book, "Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that's all she needs." - you go Susan. You understand and love yourself you perfect little Cactus.

At the beginning of the story I was unsure if I could like Susan. She comes across as very unfeeling and hard but the more I read the more I came to love that about her. And no, this isn't a "oh but she was soft inside the whole time" kind of character progression. Susan's way of seeing the world is so uniquely hers and wonderful and I would never have wanted that to change. Instead I enjoyed watching as she made room for the people in her life, never compromising who she was or her own beliefs, but widening her social circle and allowing herself to believe that sometimes (not often but sometimes) she might not be in the right. This makes the friendships and the romance in the story that bit more affecting, for me at least, because the end result could not have been more perfect or more Susan. 

Plot wise there is a lot of legalese going on that went right over my head. I couldn't challenge a will if I wanted to because I would simply have no idea what I was doing. Susan's situation was one I could really feel for, as much as the reader (often) has to disagree with what she is doing, I could never deny her integrity or her willingness to stand up for what she thought was right. The ultimate reveal of the core of her reasoning was also so touching, in a way I'm sure Susan would not appreciate - I nearly cried, and I just constantly wanted to reach into the book and hug childhood Susan. 

I've mentioned on Sunday Posts previously how much this review kept getting rewritten over and over as I struggled to get across just how much I loved and related to this book. And I still can't. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to explain it. I'm about as different from Susan as it's possible to be, and my life is a polar opposite of hers - and yet the whole way through I completely felt like I understood her. 

Perhaps the real beauty of this story is that it's relatable to everyone. No matter how much, or how little, you have in common with Susan at first glance - you can't help being drawn into her life. And if that isn't enough to convince you to read this then there is a truly, truly hilarious discussion between Susan and the father of her unborn child about visitation rights that I fully lost my mind over. Susan filled me with delight and is hands down my favourite book character of 2018 so far. 

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