It was only after the death of her husband that Janna began to suspect how much she had missed in her marriage, and in The Diary of a Good Neighbour - the novel to which this is a sequel - we saw the beginning of a deliberate self-transformation. Now, six years later, Janna has settled into a comfortable, appropriate way of life, The successful, dedicated editor of a fashion magazine, she travels around the (civilized) world as the magazines representative; she dresses impeccably and lives in a beautifully appointed apartment (its cool, white, orderly rooms perfectly indicative of her own temperament); she enjoys several close - and undemanding - friendships. having had no children of her own, she has virtually adopted her niece Jill, who has made a great success of herself (after Janna secured her a job at the magazine) and proudly models herself on her aunt. Attractive and intelligent Janna - despite the accumulation of years - can still allow herself to believe that she is not really growing older.
Now, suddenly, the immaculate, controlled flow of her life is disrupted: Jill has taken a lover, moved out, and opened the way for her younger sister Kate, a hopeless, painfully immature nineteen-year-old, to move in - with her junk food, her headphones, and her unrealistic but unrelenting expectation that Janna can, and will, so for her what she has done for Jill. More disturbing, Janna finds herself inexplicably dreaming of her dead husband, the dreams suffused with a passion that never really existed between them. And most involving, most disturbing, she is unexpectedly, improbably in love with Richard, a man she actually met on the street, a stranger who has now wholly entered her life.
Janna's usually dignified composure begins to crack. She's wonderfully giddy when she's with Richard and unnaturally anxious about him when they're apart; she's furious with Kate but cant seem to help mothering her, encouraging her - against all odds - toward efficiency and self-reliance; shes happy for Jill in her new independence but increasingly resentful at having been abandoned. And she's begun to see, mirrored in the lives around her, the mistakes she's made in her own: in Richard's frustrating relationship with his cold, ambitious wife, Janna sees what she made her own husband suffer; in Jill's cleverness and her calculated involvement with her lover, Janna sees the dampened emotions of her own youth and her inability to fully recapture them now; in Kate and in the lonely, dependent old woman to whom Janna has become - by virtue of her concern - next of kin, she sees the manifestations of her worst fears for herself, those fears that she has long kept well hidden, but which she now faces in every instance of reflection or recollection.
As Janna works throughout this turbulence of emotion she comes to understand not only the depth of her remorse - over lost youth, lost feeling, lost time - but also the recuperative (if ironic) quality of hindsight. And watching her, we are moved by an extraordinarily real portrait of a woman who uncovers equal stores or humor and desperation, and of strength and weakness, as she moves toward an acceptance of both the undeniable disappointments and the real satisfactions in her life, and in herself.
Here is the novel for adults of all ages.
Jane Somers is a pseudonym for a well-known British journalist.