published by Sphere
published by Sphere

Hard crime novels and comic books usually make up most of my reading diet, with a side of fantasy thrown in from time to time, so when I decided to pick up Denise Welch's debut novel If They Could See Me Now I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Thankfully what Denise has done here with her first fictional release is something everybody can enjoy - whether you're a woman or a man, young or old, it's an ambitious and relatable piece which immediately confronts you with the conundrum, what would you sacrifice for the perfect life?

In a recent interview Denise assured me that the book isn't autobiographical, but she did say that as with anything you can only write and tell what you know. The characters throughout the piece are amalgamations of people Denise has met and seen throughout her showbiz career, mingling in the Cheshire social circles and discovering that life isn't always as perfect as it seems on the outside, with many of the personalities facing struggles internally through problems at home, behind closed doors.

Lead character Harper Clarke is one of those people. From afar she seems to have the perfect life - a stunning husband, beauty, two daughters and an incredible home - but what she's really living through is an unhappy marriage fraught with false accusations, mental abuse and an unhealthy reliance on alcohol. In short, Harper is finally starting to realise that she may not have made some of the wisest decisions in her life and has to ask herself whether she'd prefer to continue living a lie or break free and take ahold of her life once more.

Her husband Aaron is controlling and vindictive through his own insecurities. At an early point in the novel as described in the blurb, Harper sees her reflection after having surgery on her face because of her husband's pestering and wonders just why she caves in to his demands. So long as he has control over each and every step she takes in her life, Aaron is contempt - apart from when he's accusing his wife of seeing other men.

Children Taylor and Georgie are extremely close to reality, with the elder daughter being gobby and rude to her mother whilst the younger is getting to the stage of finding everything Harper does an embarrassment. Despite that, young Georgie is a character you can't help but fall in love with. She's got a lot of heart and your willingness for her to succeed in following her dreams allows you to step into the shoes of her mother, beaming with pride whenever she finds herself ascending through life and achieving her goals.

Denise has the talent as a writer to not only bring a sense of realism to her fiction, but weave important social issues throughout, bringing them to the forefront of the reader's mind and giving them something to chew over. Women shouldn't be drinking 'just a little more' alcohol each night and children who may be a little heavier than their peers shouldn't have to live in fear of being fat-shamed from such an early age. Instead we as a nation should focus on delving into research for these areas and more to discover just why chubbier kids have such a reliance on food and just why adults reach for the wine bottle when they're at the end of their tether.

If They Could See Me Now is on the surface an easy read full of drama and intrigue, hooking you in from the moment you get through the first couple of pages. Scratch below the surface and you might find that it's smarter than you first thought...

Denise Welch's debut novel If They Could See Me Now is available in paperback from tomorrow (January 12), and in hardbook and E-book now.

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