Publication Date: November 26, 2013
In One Night at the Jacaranda by Carol Cooper, A group of lonely Londoners gathers for a night of fun and fellowship at the Jacaranda. As the night progresses, their stories are revealed from the man dying of cancer to an undercover woman, looking to make a name for herself as a freelance journalist. For Londoners, looking for that one thing that will fulfill them, will they be surprised when they discover that what they thought they were looking for may not be what they anticipated?
Dr. Carol Cooper sent me her novel in exchange for a review. I subsequently, prior to review, purchased a copy of the novel myself from Amazon.com.
The television network ABC recently canceled a show titled “Mixology” that followed a group of New Yorkers in their varied plays, human foibles and hook-ups of a group of 20-something on one night in a club. One Night at the Jacaranda follows a similar pattern with an omniscient look into the lives of the characters.
Carol Cooper gives us a diverse group of singles from every walk of London life and that are facing a variety of personal challenges. There’s the housewife, who answers questions of would-be suitors with disinterest, parroting the answers she might give to her children’s questions. There’s the man looking for a break in the loneliness and desperation of his inevitable expiration date as a result of cancer. There’s that man’s former girlfriend looking for a love idealist and who is looking to manipulate her way into a man’s heart using her body. Cooper wisely formats her book so that we are essentially getting flash dates of our own with the souls of the characters.
There’s a reason for Cooper’s disclaimer at the end of the novel in that none of the characters are based on people living or dead — these characters seem real and wholly realized. Often, these type of novels fall down on dialogue, not so in the case of One Night at the Jacaranda. Cooper has a background in psychology and puts that knowledge to good use in forming characters that react to and interact with environmental stimuli. Cooper’s story moves forward at rapid-fire pace, rotating between the characters, leaving no storyline unresolved and no character flaw unturned. Karen, for example, seems to ride along with her life rather than experiencing it. We witness a meal with her children in which she seems to wearily accept that 10-year-old Charlotte must load the dishwasher because she’s the least likely to resist. Charlotte is consumed so that when she does have a chance to do something for herself and is asked what movies she likes, she responds that she watches whatever the kids want to watch. That moment of the character speaks volumes.
One Night at the Jacaranda is expertly edited and polished. There is very little fat and filler in this story line. Most of what we learn about these characters is essential to our understanding of them. Sanjay’s and Laure’s first meeting in the book is tense and involves Sanjay blurting about his condition and a banal discussion about how the cat hadn’t grown out of its vomiting problem. At that moment, we have a clear picture of the intimacy they once shared with the complication of the interaction yet to be uncovered.
Under normal circumstances, characters in novels would be too obsessed with finding love to complete themselves, and those who later read this novel may call me out on this point. In One Night at the Jacaranda, those characters are so well rounded that not only did the characters not annoy me, I embraced their search for love, though I knew they were going about it in the wrong way. Read the book and let me know if you think I’m wrong.
Some of the resolutions of the plotline were perhaps too easy. As readers follow the story, they engage with the characters and want them to do well. Cooper, possibly in an effort to throw her readers a bone or maybe in an effort to stick to a formula, seems to wrap things up in perhaps too pat a fashion. As a reader, I stopped several times toward the end, and while my romantic heart was thrilled about some things, others seemed a bit off. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite novels kills every single character at the end, so I don’t need happily-ever-afters, but it would have been nice if it hadn’t been so tidy.
Dr. Carol Cooper is a columnist for the Sun newspaper in London and has written a number of non-fiction works. One Night at the Jacaranda is her first novel.
One Night at the Jacaranda by Carol Cooper is enjoyable, well written and sure to satisfy readers who like contemporary fiction. Read an excerpt an buy on