"It’s all part of the new mantra in her life, which is to just say ‘yes’."
Dawn French once worked as a nanny in New York. (There’s not many people know that, as Michael Caine might have said). But if she behaved anything like her heroine, Rosie Kittow, a thirty-something British girl working – yes, as a nanny in New York – then I’m going to have to start regarding one of our favourite comediennes in a very different light. Perhaps a red one.
Because Rosie – jolly, plumptious, irrepressible and optimistic to the point of being delusional, has a lot of sex in this book. And by a lot, I mean double portions with side orders and plenty of puddings to follow.
It’s all part of the new mantra in her life, which is to just say ‘yes’. Actually, it’s: ‘YES YES YES PLEASE’ just in case we’re in any doubt.
French begins what is her third novel by making it clear that Rosie is running away. She’s less than two years shy of her fortieth birthday, and life so far has been a bit of a kick in the teeth. She is no longer in a relationship. She is desperate to have a child but nature has other ideas (indeed the story opens with a poignant description of yet another failed pregnancy test; a countdown to disappointment as the crucial second blue line on the test itself fails to appear). She has quit her job as a primary school teacher.
So we find her on a British Airways flight that has just landed in New York. This is the start of Rosie’s new life. For a few moments, she contemplates staying on the plane and just flying back home again, back to all the old certainties and disappointments.
Fortunately for us, she gets off.
"…this book is huge fun; an extended romp through a highly-coloured, highly-charged world of near-absurdity."
You can tell that Dawn French has spent most of her career in television, because her characters in According to Yes are as snappily drawn as in the sketches she used to write. That makes her cast something close to caricature, but if one accepts that from the outset, this book is huge fun; an extended romp through a highly-coloured, highly-charged world of near-absurdity.
That world is set on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Think Trading Places, and Dan Ackroyd’s sumptuous apartment that he loses to the streetwise Eddie Murphy in a betting scam.
Rosie has taken a job as nanny to the Wilder-Bingham household, looking after twin boys. The huge apartment, dripping with priceless furniture, paintings and assorted valuables, is a redoubt of rectitude and social conservatism. Presiding over all is glacial matriarch Grandma Glenn ‘a woman seventy-eight going on a hundred and twenty’. The twins belong to her spineless son, soon-to-be-divorced Kemble, the quintessential mummy’s boy.
Rosie – a sort of potty-mouthed Mary Poppins – throws herself into this frozen world with gusto and soon, almost inevitably, a great thaw begins. The family simply don’t know what to make of her but big changes are about to happen.
Because after a while, Rosie’s not the only one saying ‘yes’.