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‘The Stepmother’s Diary’ by Fay Weldon

Fay Weldon. I can’t even see that name without remembering the joy and pain of watching the televised version of *The Lives **and Loves of a She-Devil* with its opening barb, “I hate Mary Fisher”. It opened my eyes to this wonderfully clever, wicked, witty writer. And nearly 20 novels later, here she is, thrilling and appalling me all over again.

Emily is surprised to find her grown-up daughter Sappho – five months pregnant, married to an older widower and the stepmother of the title – standing on her doorstop with a shopping bag full of diaries. Sappho is going away to “work things out” she tells her mother, and needs to make sure her husband and stepdaughter don’t get hold of the diaries which she insists Emily must hide, not read. But Emily, a Freudian analyst, reads them much to the disgust of her neighbour and would-be lover, Barnaby, a Jungian with washing machine issues.

What the diaries reveal is Sappho’s descent into hell at the hands of her awful stepdaughter Isobel; her husband’s dead wife’s even more awful mother, Gwen; and her husband himself, the weak, vile Gavin. Isobel has designs on her father that certainly don’t include her stepmother, Gwen is buying herself an oBE using Sappho’s credit card, and Gavin is not only failing to support his wife, he’s stealing her family home out from underneath her.

Emily tortures Barnaby with her varying observations as she makes her way through the disjointed diaries, which also throw up a few curly ones on the subject of her own relationship with her daughter. Well, it can’t be easy having a mother banging on about psychosexual development all the time. And she never did like Gavin. The question is, where does this leave them all?

I loved this book. It has all the trademark wit and intellect you’d expect from Fay Weldon, with a tart little hint of bitterness swirling about in the depths to give it an extra kick. Perfect for reading while eating vast amounts of chocolates. Dark ones.

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