From the moment I caught sight of the book cover I was hooked. I’m a visual person so pretty covers always capture my fancy, and this cover is glamorous and beautiful and everything the reader imagines Lillian to be. And she is. Alison Jean Lester has created a character who is not only sure of herself, she is sophisticated, clever, and has no qualms about her position in life. Lillian’s a mistress. What I loved about this book is that Lillian never plays the victim or bemoans her fate – unlike so many books where the aging mistress is on the brink of suicide and is filled with regret that she’s been passed over for the wife. That’s not Lillian’s style. The opening page is brutally honest about the appearance, and physical setbacks, of this lifestyle the said woman approaches 50. The narrative tells us everything we need to know about Lillian’s view of life, and working backwards, we are informed of how she deals with the subject in question. It is not an in-depth narrative, or a deeply complex book, so anyone looking for a fictional book of that variety might be disappointed. But I wasn’t as this is a lovely tome to dip in and out of and you don’t have to retrace your steps even if you finish mid-chapter. Imagine! To give you an idea of the layout the chapters are as follows:
1. On The Dual Purpose Of Things; 2. On The Back Seat; 3. On How To Study; 4. On Getting To Sex; 5. On “Us”; 6. On The Importance Of Big Pockets; 7. On Behaving Abroad, And In General; 8. On English As A Foreign Language; 9. On Remodeling; 10. On The Food Of Love; 11. On Leaving In Order To Stay; 12. On Big Decisions; 13. On The Danger Of Water; 14. On Looking The Part; 15. On The Way To Go; 16. On Not Loving The Help; 17. On White; 18. On One-Night Stands; 19. On Memory’s Mismatched Moments; 20. On Getting Out Of Bed; 21. On Fate; 22. On Overflowing; 23. On The End; 24. On What Happens Next.
Many of the chapters are brief, written as though a sudden memory had burst into Lillian’s head, for example, the chapter ‘On Big Pockets’ is about a dress-fitting she had whilst living and working in Munich.
Lester writes in the voice of Lillian, a woman from the Midwest whose father had served in WW2 and whose mother is a homemaker with a dislike of physical contact i.e. kisses after breakfast are a no no and the children know as soon as mother has her lipstick on (very early in the morning) that a farewell token is nothing more than a ‘goodbye’. The tidbits about postwar America are wonderful – not sprawling descriptions – but mentions of fancy cars, Coca Cola and the white picket fences of middle-class suburbia. It’s easy to imagine that Lillian is a real person, indeed the author could have masqueraded behind her fictional name, to write this book.
I read Lillian on Life in one sitting, very swiftly as though she were telling me her stories and giving me advice. I might have raced through it, but I know I’ll read it again.