Book review – The Ugly Sister by Jane Fallon

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Wednesday 21st September 2011

If you haven’t discovered Jane Fallon’s books yet, then trust me, you’re in for a treat.

Her first, Getting Rid of Matthew, was touching, pacy and made me laugh out loud. While many heroines have a burning ambition to find a man, this one featured a woman who is desperate to ditch hers. She tries everything to convince her married lover that she’s had enough of him and his dirty laundry, from not brushing her teeth (eek!) to (double eek!) leaving incontinence pads scattered around the bathroom.

Fallon’s fourth novel, The Ugly Sister, is out next week and tackles the thorny issues of beauty and ageing. It tells the tale of two sisters who were once close but have drifted apart. Cleo, the elder, is one of those annoying women who seems to have it all. She’s a stunning supermodel who was spotted by a model agency scout at the age of 16 and has never looked back. She’s got a lovely husband, two daughters and a luxurious, four-storey house in Primrose Hill.

Younger sister Abi, on the other hand, has spent her entire life in Cleo’s shadow. A single mum who works as a librarian and struggles to make ends meet, she’s astonished when out of the blue Cleo invites her to stay for the summer. The sisters have led separate lives for 20 years and Abi, whose daughter has just set off on her gap year, reckons this may be the chance to rebuild their once close relationship.

But as Fallon reveals, Cleo’s life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her career’s on the slide, her marriage is far from love’s young dream and her children are spoiled rotten. So much so that the ten year old refuses to travel on the tube and expects to be waited on hand and foot.

Jane Fallon’s partner is Ricky Gervais, and before turning to novels, she was the award-winning producer behind TV shows like This Life, Teachers and 20 Things To Do Before You’re 30. The Ugly Sister isn’t quite as sharp and witty as her first novel, but it’s an entertaining read all the same. It zips along and has some perceptive insights into sibling rivalry. As Fallon herself says: “Sibling rivalry is a classic forum for drama and storytelling. We all have such conflicted and complex feelings about our families, even those of us who have grown up in a happy, loving nuclear set-up.”

The Ugly Sister by Jane Fallon is published by Penguin at £7.99

PS: The film of I Don’t Know How She Does It has managed to irritate virtually every woman I know. Stay-at-home mums are furious at being portrayed as smug know-it-alls who bake cakes and spend their days at the gym. Working mums are livid at the way Sarah Jessica Parker (aka hot-shot financier Kate Reddy) arrives at the office with porridge on her lapel, nits in her hair and reminders for her son’s birthday party scrawled across her hand. And career women are fed up at being stereotyped as humourless workaholics who insist they don’t want children. In fact the only thing I liked about the adaptation of Allison Pearson’s 2002 novel was SJP’s divine Mulberry handbag.


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