Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review: 'An Obstinate Vanity' by Keddie Hughes

Scottish author Keddie Hughes, born in Glasgow, has enjoyed a successful career as a psychologist – advising and coaching international organizations on personnel management. She now lives in Buckinghamshire outside London and has turned her attention to writing, incorporating her skills as psychologist to create characters with problems and how they cope with them. AN OBSTINATE VANITY is her very fine debut novel.

‘Frailty thy name is woman’ (Shakespeare’s Hamlet actually used ‘frailty’ instead of vanity as is so often misquoted) and ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’ from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible come to mind with the title of Keddie’s book – as though to expect a diatribe on feminine vanity. But Keddie’s main character, whom we discover in the first paragraphs of this rich book, presents another more significant interpretation: ‘Beth joined the stream of mid-morning travelers as they fanned out to their various platforms as if choreographed. She imagined people might register the cut of her hair and suit, the restraint of her kitten heels, her confident step, and think she was a businesswoman going into the office a little later than usual. Some might even regard her as the sort of woman who was skillfully navigating her looks through middle age; at least they might if they took no more than a passing glance.... As the carriage filled up, Beth became aware of a subtle change of atmosphere around her, a check in the step as people approached before moving past. Two men were standing by the door, looking down at their feet, in weary anticipation of a journey spent standing, yet the seats beside and opposite her were empty. She felt both furious and forlorn. She had never considered herself beautiful, thank God, was sorry for those women who did and were so quickly judged because of it, but the speed of her transformation from a reasonably attractive forty-four year old woman to someone who people avoided sitting beside, was bewildering. She had been given a diagnosis. Bell’s Palsy. A paralysis of the facial nerve probably triggered by the virus that had kept her off work for the past week. Bell’s Palsy. She had tried to say it out loud but her lips and tongue had thickened around the ‘b’ and ‘p’. She wondered if Mr. Bell had taken any cruel pleasure in seeing those afflicted with his disease struggle so much to pronounce it. There was no cure. Doctor Rorke said most cases of Bell’s Palsy get better on their own. It was likely to be temporary, she said, offering the prognosis like a gift.’

Writing of this quality is usually encountered in seasoned writers but here it is in a debut novel. Keddie supplies a fine synopsis: ‘When Beth Colquhoun – a successful, attractive single woman in her mid forties – wakes up one morning to find that one side of her face is paralysed, her world is turned upside down. She is told she has Bells Palsy and hopes the effects will be temporary. Being a confident, positive woman she is obstinate in her resolve to carry on as normal. As Chief Executive of The Agency she is determined to show this male dominated world what she's made of. Will she be successful or will her enemies prevail? She chairs the judging panel of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Competition and the winner is Benjy McKinnon with his bold plans to expand the family's oyster farm in Skye. Little does she know at the time but Benjy's father is Dougie McKinnon, her ex fiancĂ© from University. Although curious to meet up after 20 years, Beth has no illusions about rekindling their romance. What happens from this point onwards is full of twists and turns from dangerous and exciting relationships, to double crossing and back-stabbing.’

Enough said. Welcome a new and very talented author to watch. Grady Harp, May 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.