Mrs Zhivago of Queen’s Park
by Olivia Lichtenstein
Available at Silverbird Bookstores in Nairobi
“Chloe Zhivago is 43 and definitely not counting. Married for what feels like an eternity to Greg. She has two children, a successful job as a psychotherapist, and a Famous Friend from Hell. So why does she want to rub it all out and start over again? Is it because she hasn’t had sex for 245 days? When Chloe meets temptation in the shape of dark and dangerous Ivan, does she dare risk a passionate Russian romance before gravity wins the battle with her face and figure? Can she get away with one glorious, final fling…?”
This book is a light read with good humour and a nice flow. Despite the fact that I am super busy career woman with two kids, one of whom is a toddler that can never give me 5 minutes of “me” time, I managed to read 306 pages in less than a week. That’s a record and says a lot about the style and content of the book.
The book is based in London, and the author brings life to Chloe Zhivago who has what most women want- a good career, an attractive husband, two kids, and a good support system in her own dad and best friend. Chloe’s life is one many of us career women cherish- the balance between work and family. She works from home in her basement office so she doesn’t have to deal with a commute to and from work. Chloe even has a live in nanny (who has her lesbian love move in eventually). But this is not enough for Chloe who seeks to have an affair because she feels deprived, sexually that is, as she and her hubby have not had sex in almost a year. It begs the question, “Can women really have it all?”
The sequence of the book flows smoothly, giving us details into the various aspects of her life. As a psychotherapist, we meet her “interesting” patients, such as Gina, who is about to get married and is scared of commitment, and ends up having a last fling on the day of her wedding. Then there is Jeremy, the good looking 40-something year old man who can never commit, thinks he is God’s gift to women, and is convinced that every woman is after him -until he meets his match.
The author then gives us a look into Chloe’s family life. She is daddy’s girl and has a close relationship with her warm loving father, who is a widow, as Chloe’s mum passed on just after Chloe got married. We also get a sense of Chloe’s troubled relationship with her mother, who was a beauty but didn’t really play the role of a mother well. We meet Chloe’s brother, who,devastated by his mother’s death, moves to Spain to live in a tepee. We also get to meet Chloe’s mother-in-law who,like the typical mother-in-law figure, is such a nuisance that no one can stand to be in her presence for more than five minutes.
Then there’s Chloe’s children- Kitty and Leo, the latter on the brink of puberty and learning how to deal with dating and peer pressure like most kids his age. Kitty, Chloe’s daughter is very close to her and can sense when Chloe is distressed or otherwise.
Chloe has interesting and diverse friends. There is Ruthie who is “happily” married with two kids who happen to be best friends with Chloe’s own kids. In actual fact, Ruthie’s aloof researcher husband has driven Ruthie to seek solace in cocaine, a habit she hides from Chloe until she gets laid off from her glamorous job as a magazine editor.
Then there’s FF, or Famous Friend, as Chloe refers to her. She is the beautiful, self-conceited celebrity friend of Chloe, whom she has known since childhood, that Chloe keeps as a friend for fun (Read: glamorous party invitations) It is through FF that Chloe meets Ivan, whom she thinks about having an affair with.
I don’t want to give away the plot of the book so I won’t tell you whether or not she does eventually have an affair with Ivan. I also won’t tell you about the ending, which had a nice surprising twist. My only dismay was the author didn’t delve into why Greg and Chloe’s sex life had died. I personally had a feeling Greg was having an affair with one of his patients (he is a doctor). It would have helped to understand the dynamics that play, when you have a successful career coupled with juggling work, family, and yet can’t put in time for intimacy with your partner.
It got me thinking about marriage in the Kenyan context, particularly couples in their thirties and forties and what challenges they face. I seem to come across too many Kenyan married men in this age bracket having affairs with much younger girls, and wonder what is going on in the institution of marriage… But that is another article all in itself.
In conclusion, the book is an interesting read that gets you to also think about your relationships with your family, children, partner, friends, and work mates and how they affect the decisions you make. It is also a story about forgiveness and understanding, what it is that you really want in life to make you happy.
Grab a copy and send me your opinion after you have read it!
The writer is a 30 something year old Kenyan, who is passionate about being online! She is currently employed in the Digital Media Industry and resides in Nairobi with her two children aged 10 and 2 yrs.