Book Review: And Then There’s Margaret by Carolyn Clarke


Marriage and midlife can be difficult. But when you add a controlling, manipulative and self-absorbed mother-in-law into the mix, things can get worse-much worse. Toxic, even.

When Allison Montgomery’s beloved father-in-law and long-time confidant passes away, her mother-in-law, Margaret, ‘temporarily’ moves in. From rearranging the furniture and taking over the kitchen, to undermining and embarrassing Allie at every turn, including funding her daughter’s escape, throwing a hissy fit at the mall, and publicly equating Allie’s glass of Chardonnay to full blown alcoholism, Margaret turns Allie’s life upside down causing her to bounce between a sincere desire to support her grieving mother-in-law and an intense urge to simply push her out of the nearest window.

Feeling annoyed, trapped and even a little childish, Allie struggles to avoid a complete meltdown with help from her fearless and audacious best friend, a plan for reinventing herself and enjoying a second act, and, yes, a few glasses of Chardonnay. Along the way, Allie discovers the reasons behind Margaret’s attitude toward her all these years. Does it help? Maybe…

It’s publication day for And Then There’s Margaret, the debut novel by Carolyn Clarke. Happy Publication Day, Carolyn. To celebrate, I am delighted to be sharing my review os the book with you. My thanks to Hannah Hargrave for inviting me to review, and to the author and publisher for providing me with a copy for this purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

It’s always really great to see a protagonist in a novel at a similar stage of life to you and Allie in And Then There Was Margaret is such a character. Mid-forties with two grown up children, a middle-aged husband and ageing parents, she is a character that a lot of us can hard relate to. Although, before I go any further, I have to say that my mother-in-law, could not be LESS like Margaret. I wouldn’t want the lovely Phyllis to think I thought she was anything like the impossible Margaret!

We meet the family at a crisis point. Allie’s beloved father-in-law, George, has just died and, whilst grieving the death of someone to whom she was very close, Allie simultaneously has to deal with the constant, demanding, interfering presence of her irascible mother-in-law, Margaret, in her life. She tries to make allowances for the fact Margaret is also grieving but the two have never got along so she finds it increasingly difficult and Margaret sticks her nose and opinions into every part of Allie’s life.

There are so many things going on in this book that will be common experiences for women of a certain age reading it. Midlife crisis, difficult relationships with your spouse’s family, marital tension, perimenopause, worrying about your children, dissatisfaction with a job you have been doing for years, concerns about getting older, ill-health, dating after divorce. It is a veritable smorgasbord of the conflicts that people encounter in later life, all dealt with with a humour that will make you both laugh and wince at the same time because their portrayal is so accurate. It is possible to feel extremely sorry for Allie whilst also recognising that some of her behaviour is entirely unreasonable, but also understandable when viewed through the hormonal lens of middle-aged womanhood. It had me examining some of my attitudes from a third-party perspective with no entirely comfortable results.

After an initially slow start, I was then drawn completely in by the author’s light and approachable writing style and raced through the rest of the book apace. Although it is set in Canada, the experiences of late-forties womanhood are universal. I really wanted Allie to work things out with all the people in her life, whilst realising this might not happen because life is just not that neat and, if there is one thing I can say about this book, is that it has the truth of life nailed. (The part about Allie’s dreams of writing a bestseller that pays for her retirement was uncomfortably familiar!)

A great read for anyone woman of a certain age who longs to see more characters like her between the pages of a book but, be warned, it’s not entirely comfortable viewing. To quote Robbie Burns,

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion

And Then There’s Margaret is out today in paperback and ebook and is free with Kindle Unlimited membership. You can buy it here.

About the Author


Carolyn Clarke is the founder and curator of HenLit Central, a blog focused on ‘life and lit’ for women over 40. And Then There’s Margaret is her first novel. She has been an ESL teacher for over sixteen years and has co-authored several articles and resources with Cambridge University Press, MacMillan Education and her award-winning blog ESL Made Easy. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her partner, Tony, her two daughters and a bulldog, Sophie.

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