The Woman in the Middle by Milly Johnson: An entertaining rollercoaster ride - book review -

Life isn’t easy for middle-aged daughter, wife and mother Shay Bastable…

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 12:30 pm
Woman in the Middle
Woman in the Middle

She is in the unenviable position of being the filling part of the sandwich generation – compressed tightly between her parents and her children or, as she would say, ‘the two fat slices of bread’ on either side of her.

Her job is ‘to glue, to serve, to bind together’ her elderly, failing mum and dad and her two twenty-something youngsters who might have flown the nest but could still at any minute take a flight path to home again. So all she needs now is a big, life-changing crisis.

When much-loved Barnsley author Milly Johnson is writing the script, expect laughter and tears all the way and this warm, funny and razor-sharp exploration of what it means to be caught in the generation gap is, quite simply, a dazzling, contemporary masterpiece.

This is a writer whose wide-ranging experiences as a columnist, joke-writer, poet and after-dinner speaker have made her a consummate ‘people person,’ enabling her to fill her clever stories with characters we can all recognise and to seamlessly blend heartfelt emotion with laugh-out-loud comedy, gritty reality with gorgeous romance, and moments of sheer magic with the downright prosaic.

And brimming with Johnson’s trademark heart, soul and humour, The Woman in the Middle is the kind of clever and compassionate novel readers have come to expect from the winner of the RoNA Best Romantic Comedy Novels of 2014 and 2016, and the winner of last year’s RoNA Outstanding Achievement Award.

When Shay Corrigan married Bruce Bastable 24 years ago, she swore she would never let her identity be buried under being a wife, mother or daughter, and that she would never sacrifice herself at the ‘altar of family.’

How wrong could you be? She’s now very much the woman in the middle, a typical part of the sandwich generation, caring for her frail parents and her children Courtney and Sunny, supporting Bruce, holding them all together and looking after them as best she can.

Shay had dreamed of a marriage full of love and respect but instead has ended up with the flawed relationship that her parents had until they divorced late in life five years ago… a marriage where the man goes out to work to earn the bread and the woman does everything else.

But when a large orange skip arrives next door to her mother’s house on a local estate, it sets in motion a cataclysmic series of events which leads to the collapse of Shay’s world and she is finally forced to put herself first.

However, if Shay is to move forward with her present, she needs to make sense of her past. And so she returns to the little village where she grew up to uncover the truth about what happened to her when she was younger. And in doing so, she discovers that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to find the only way is up…

Johnson’s books always champion women, their strength and resilience, and their pivotal role in family life, and here she celebrates their capacity for unquestioning love, their close bonds of friendship, and their ability to somehow bind together the different, and often competing, generations.

The Woman in the Middle is written straight from the heart of an author who understands the essence of a woman’s everyday life and who can imbue her movingly authentic characters with the wisdom and insight she has gained from her own experiences.

And many readers will certainly recognise their own secret fears, hopes and regrets as they unfold in Johnson’s sensitive and darkly funny exploration of what it means to be caught between caring for ageing parents, keeping a watchful eye on angst-ridden children, and trying to keep your marriage together.

Peppered liberally throughout with the author’s down-to-earth, Yorkshire-flavoured humour, and with an emotional temperature that runs at high from first page to last, The Woman in the Middle tackles some dark and thorny issues but is an unmissable and truly entertaining rollercoaster ride in which the human spirit prevails against all the odds and optimism triumphs in the face of despair.

What more could you want for autumn nights?

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £16.99)