I first encountered Mandy Sutter in 2005 and when I spotted a couple of years ago on her website that there was a novel in the offing I knew I’d have to read it when it came out. This summer it’s finally available and thanks to this video taster it shot up my To Read list and has now been devoured, with pleasure.
Jennifer Spendlove is 32, overweight, and lives with her elderly hypochondriac mother on the outskirts of Leeds. One of those gentle souls too nice for their own good, Jennifer gets taken advantage of regularly but instead of standing up for herself she seeks solace in snacks and the creation of papier mache sculptures. In between the regular ferrying of her mum to the doctor and the hairdresser, Jennifer is trying to sneak off for a series of dates, the result of a lonely hearts ad in the local paper. Of course, finding a soulmate – or even a decent boyfriend – was never going to be that simple, but her loss is our gain as she perseveres through a queue of unsuitable men. And all this while the new regime of efficiency at the cash-strapped factory where she works overturns her everyday world.
I mostly read Stretching It on the train, and mildly embarrassed myself when the laughter wouldn’t stay silent, or when tears prickled my eyes. It was a quick, easy read and I stayed up late to finish it, so it’s fairly safe to say I was caught up in it. I cared enough about Jennifer to groan at bad decisions and gasp at jeopardy, and I even formed a grudging attachment to her self-centred mother Alicia. On the whole the book is light and humorous so the two darker scenes later on particularly stand out and come as something of a shock; I actually felt bad for laughing at something that comes shortly after the second one. However, the mildly unsettled feeling soon passed and I enjoyed the rest of the novel, putting it aside with a warm glow.
I think anyone who enjoyed my first novel, Wasted Years,would probably like Stretching It (and hopefully vice versa); you could describe both as being about a young woman in West Yorkshire working her way through unsuitable candidates in the search for love, though Stretching It is more overtly comic than Wasted Years. I wouldn’t usually read anything described as a romance novel (see my review of Out of Time by Monique Martin), so if that applies to you as well, don’t be put off by the centre-stage appearance of Love – there is nothing soppy here.