The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
Opening sentence: “I’m not a woman who bears grudges, broods over disagreements or questions other people’s motives.”
The cactus is known for having a prickly, but often beautiful, exterior to keep it safe from harm and, with the right amount of nurture and attention, it flourishes. Our lead character, Susan Green, is a fan of cactuses, cultivating quite the collection, but the cactus is also the perfect metaphor for her unique character. She puts up barriers to protect herself from the world, is straight talking, highly logical, not a fan of other people (“If it wasn’t for the fact that I have colleagues, office life would be bearable”), not a fan of emotions and defines herself as, “an autonomous and resourceful woman.” She doesn’t quite see the world the same way as everyone else: Feelings and bonds with other people are a weakness. She is capable of feelings, she just chooses to believe a majority of them don’t affect her. A prime example is her friends-with-benefits relationship with Richard, which suits her fine, she gets to have dates and sex without the possibility of love taking control away from her perfectly planned life.
So yes, she is quite an individual character and this is very much a character led book, so your enjoyment of it will depend on how much you like Susan. BUT there is also enough of a plot line to keep things ticking over: When two major life events cause chaos in Susan’s organised world, she is forced to delve into her past and stumbles across one or two family secrets. We are also given snapshots into her childhood, including her complex relationship with her brother, which helps adds depth to her personality. I have to say, I did find Susan difficult to warm to, however, her saving grace was her (not always on purpose) humour and her lovely character development that meant, by the end, you did start to see things Susan’s way.
Like her attitude towards romantic love, Susan thinks friends are also a bit of a waste of time, but when her neighbour, Kate, essentially forces friendship on her, this gives Susan a more human touch (she can veer slightly on robotic side in places) and they have an interesting (and topical) discussion on what being a feminist means to them, weighing up Susan’s more rigid view: “That’s how a feminist is: iron-willed, Teflon-coated, in total control of every aspect of her life”, against Kate’s more modern approach to the subject:“What it boils down to is knowing that women are equal to men, and living that knowledge. It’s about ensuring that equality is recognised in the home, in the workplace, in public life.” Susan and Kate are both strong female characters, and I liked how these very different women are used to explore the idea that there is no set way to be a feminist, giving this book another layer to enjoy.
So overall, yes, the plot twists were no surprise, but this was a very readable, often funny tale of how sometimes we think we have life under control, but really, that’s just impossible; it’s better to just go with the flow and actually enjoy ourselves along the way. A very useful life lesson.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Published 25th January 2018.