A novel for the #MeToo generation that encourages you to check your privilege, whilst never crossing that fine line in to preachy. Deeply political at its heart, a wonderful novel that should make all readers think.
Heleen Kist has written something quite remarkable here. Its not an easy book to categorize, there are so many facets to the story being told to try and put it in one place, in fact to do so would be to do the book a disservice. The political elements running through it though are clearly central to the writing, Stay Mad, Sweetheart is a #MeToo story at its heart, delivering its message without ever crossing over into preachy or to the exclusion of a male audience. When I tweeted Heleen to say how much I’d enjoyed the novel, her fear that the book would isolate men was something we discussed. In my view it absolutely does not, if you come away from this story feeling that its anti-men then I would suggest taking a long hard look at your motivations. This is a story of women refusing to be cowed, and of taking ownership of their own destinies. Of bringing some light out of a tragic opening, the death of our lead protagonist Laura’s only real friend Emily following a particularly vicious online hounding by trolls.
Laura is a data genius, a coding legend. Far more skilled than most in the arena and with the imagination to see the capacities for data mining in a positive light. Laura is also quite the introvert and has always trusted in her business partner Justin to run that side of things so that she can get on with what she is good at. The placement of trust in a relationship, and the repercussions that an abuse of that trust can have is a central theme running through the story. Particularly thought provoking is the idea that none of the character’s involved in these betrayals feel that they have behaved poorly. From their point of view their actions are justified and they simply appear unable to see the context as to why that may not be or to understand that hundreds if not thousands of years of entitled patriarchy sit behind their position. Or to put it another way, #CheckYourPrivilage.
I mentioned earlier that Laura is a genius with data, don’t let the potential for the exposition to get too science heavy put you off, whilst there is some scientific background in the story it is all pitched perfectly. We get enough of a sense of just how smart and talented Laura is, without being locked out of the story. A good, and tough, balance to achieve – bringing the detail to life for those whose own experiences aren’t within that world.
Events in Laura’s life throw her together with two other women, experts in their fields too. Suki is in finance and Claire is in PR. As a group they combine their strengths to make their lives better and send a message about underestimating them. The burgeoning friendship amongst the three, make for some of my favorite scenes in the book. Just three people meeting for lunch or dinner, friends getting together. A situation Laura is not terribly familiar with, and to see that fish out of water growth in the character makes for a subtly uplifting sub-plot and gives the story its most human and really relatable moments.
Heleen has a relaxed writing style, that is almost at odds with the themes of the story, which brings you into the world of Stay Mad, Sweetheart like an old friend. The light touch of the approach allows for the story to progress at a natural pace, speeding up and slowing down as required by the plot. Natural, conversational writing is also the support structure that allows for such a politically charged novel to not feel like a lecture couched in a thriller, but rather a thrilling novel with a political current and an important point of view.
Thought provoking, challenging, exciting and incredibly relevant for the times we are living in Stay Mad, Sweetheart is a perfectly balanced novel of nuance and power, with the quality of writing to underpin it beautifully.