Title: Better Luck Next Time
Author: Kate Hilton
Published: June 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
I received a copy of Better Luck Next Time from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
It isn’t easy being related to a feminist icon, especially when she’s celebrating the greatest moment of her storied career.
Just ask the daughters of Lydia Hennessey, who could have it all if only they’d stop self-destructing. Mariana, the eldest, is on the verge of throwing away a distinguished reputation in journalism, along with her marriage. Nina, the middle daughter, has returned from a medical mission overseas as a changed woman but won’t discuss it with anyone. And Beata, the youngest, has a hostile teenaged son who just discovered the existence of a father who didn’t know about him either. Meanwhile, their cousin Zoe is making divorce look like a death-match while her brother, Zack, is grappling with the fallout from his popular television dramedy, which is based far too closely on Lydia herself.
Over the course of an eventful year, the Hennessey children contend with the big struggles of midlife: ageing parents, raging teens, crumbling marriages and bodies, new loves and the choice between playing it safe or taking life-altering risks. And as they inch toward a new definition of happiness they might even persuade their parents-and themselves-that they’re all grown up.
It’s not often that I gravitate toward’s ‘women’s fiction’ (I happen to be more of a romance reader) but Better Luck Next Time intrigued me from the moment I heard about it. It is the intergenerational story of a family of women over the course of 12 months, from Christmas one year to the next, and everything that happens to them in the intervening months. We have multiple points of view (although not from all of the women) and snapshots into their lives, which was really fascinating.
We start with Zoe, the cousin and niece of the Hennessey women, who arrives at Christmas dinner and drops the bombshell that she’s divorcing her husband, which results in her having to go through divorce lawyers and selling her home (and ultimately living with her twin brother, Zach, who’s dealing with his own issues). Mariana Hennessey finds herself switching careers and separating from her husband and suddenly a single mum, while her sister Beata is dealing with a teenage son who’s determined to find out who his birth father is while his mother tries to keep her girlfriend a secret. On top of this, is the matriarchal figure of Lydia Hennessey – mother to Mariana and Beata – who is a well-known, influential feminist icon with very strong opinions on what the women in her family should be doing with their lives.
It sounds complicated to follow, but it’s really not – as mentioned earlier, despite the fact that we have multiple characters and perspectives, by telling the story in months, author Kate Hilton allows us to peek in and update ourselves on how everyone’s story has progressed from one month to the next. There is, very wisely, a cast of characters list at the front of the book which helps the reader to remember who is related to who (which is helpful at the start of the book) but once you get into the meatier part of the book, you discover that these characters – flawed and down-on-their-luck as they might be – are very real.
There are two things I would have loved to see in the book – a bit more discussion on the intersectionality of feminism, and also a bit more depth into the third Hennessy sister, Nina, who worked as a doctor in third world countries. We don’t spend a lot of time in her perspective – her story is told through the other characters – but I think her story was, perhaps, the most fascinating and heart-breaking of all the Hennessey women. I can understand the reasons why Hilton may have chosen to make that choice, but ultimately I think I would have loved the story even more with Nina’s insight more of an influence on the other characters.
It is a book that mixes real life drama with humour – in the way that only reality can provide – and there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments in the book. It was a pleasure to read and I’m glad I had the opportunity to pick it up.