I have been a huge fan of Paula Daly since her first novel, What Kind of Mother Are You? came out in 2013 marketed by wise publicist Alison Barrow, who also happens to take care of Kate Atkinson’s books. Ever since, Daly has published two other novels: Keep Your Friends Close (2014) and The Mistake I Made (2015). Ben Willis kindly sent me a review copy of Daly’s latest work this summer, and knowing I was in for a page-turner that would brighten up my week, I saved it until I had time enough to read it, which turned out to be the first weekend of October.
The Mistake I Made tells the story of Roz Toovey, a physiotherapist and single mother who is desperately struggling to make it every month despite working almost ten hours a day and living almost on nothing. She and her son live in The Lake District – Daly’s preferred setting for her novels – while they try to keep up with the expensive prices of the area and the demands of consumerism in modern life. After one of the most disastrous weeks ever Roz is made a proposal she cannot refuse by a rich local. Will she accept, or will she not?
You know when you pick up a book because something inside you tells you it is the tiem to read it? Well, having spent the previous week at the physiotherapist dealing with quite a bothersome leg injury, I found myself reading about a physiotherapist during the weekend. This means that the novel develops around human bodies, how we hurt them and how to heal them, and I have no doubts Daly’s past as a physiotherapist informed the narrative giving it a maturity and a background her previous works lacked. We often take for granted our bodies, yet we could not function without them. We are our bodies as much as we are our minds, and The Mistake I Made takes time to develop the different kind of bodies – dead and alive – that we encounter in our lives and how they condition our lives.
However, it was not only the body depictions that enriched the narrative. The Mistake I Made questions one of the most important issues for modern feminism nowadays and explores all consequences from a gendered point of view. If you read between the lines, the offer Roz could not refuse is, obviously, the exchange of sex for money, or prostitution. This is a hot topic and a bone of contention. Do women choose to go into prostitution, or are they forced by our patriarchal society? Daly makes an impressive exploration of Roz’s subject position on this issue, as well as highlighting the negative consequences hidden behind the gender-biased construction in the prostitute/client relationship. For example, it is a truth universally acknowledged in our patriarchal society that the prostitute will lie and seek to do away with the client’s life, blackmail him, or just try to steal from him. It is also a truth universally acknowledged in the scheme of relationships, that women will lie to get their partners into trouble, after luring them – as a 1940’s femme fatale – into a relationship the man alas! did not really want to enter. And so on, and so forth.
So, The Mistake I Made lives up to the expectations set by Daly’s previous work. And not only that, the novel exceeds them.
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