Lovely, gentle Isabel, just 40, makes masks. Her husband Dan, erstwhile ‘student of the Classics’ and playwright manqué, is ‘bored by the import-export business’. Enter long lost, lonely Bert, who ‘left soldiering, a distinguished colonel, and went to work for an oil company in New York’, plus Isabel’s unlikely friend and marriage-predator, thirtysomething Carlotta, who boasts a red dress, Mercedes coupé, unspecified high-powered job and ‘amazing (yes, amazing, I know) breasts’.
Carlotta finds everyone ‘absolutely dementing’, but neither Dan nor Bert can resist — while suspecting ‘she just might have been one of those women who think it quite in order to go to any lengths to get what you want in a competitive world’.
Garnished with ‘Pipers and Nicolsons and the lovely Gwen John that Isabel picked up for a song’, this is an emotionally shadeless, grand but apparently contemporary world in which intentions are ‘nefarious’, reactions ‘perfidious’, paper comes in ‘quires’ and Cole Porter lyrics spring usefully to mind. In common with the handful of other characters narrating this sub-Aga saga, ten-year old daughter Sylvie is laughably off-key: ‘the rentals’ are ‘like, daft’ and ‘mega-embarrass’, but ‘Papa’ and ‘Mama’ have at least taught her to appreciate Radiohead and smoked salmon; ‘Ace, that.’
Angela Huth muses that ‘women who try to have it all are deeply tedious, and given far too much attention in the media and even novels’, hinting that Colouring In could be subtly postmodern in its Austenesque scepticism. Given all the novel’s wrong notes, I hope that Huth — whose long and prolific career peaked with her 1994 Land Girls and its successful film adaptation — was, like clever Carlotta, practising ‘a sort of double bluff’ when she wrote it.
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