Berringden Brow
Memoirs of a Single Mother with a Crush
Jill Robinson

The review below appeared in THE NORTH GUIDE, November 2001

Dedicated to Germaine Greer, who apparently bemoaned the lack of books featuring hilarious harridans, a situation this book goes someway towards rectifying, Berringden Brow centres around Jess, former Greenham Common woman and said harridan. A divorced, single mother in her late forties living in a small village near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, she is infatuated with an enigmatic librarian named Ben.

While the dust-jacket's description of Jess and her friends as 'Bridget Jones' eider sisters' may be misleading, it is a good point of reference. While the main point of Bridget, if she has one, is to highlight the shallow existence of your average spoilt, Chardonnay-drinking, London lass, the story of Jess is something else entirely. On the surface, it is about her frustrated search for suitable menfolk, of which there appear to be even less in Yorkshire than in London. Indeed, so wet and pathetic are most of the men featured in Berringden Brow, that the book would soon become unbearable if it revolved solely around them Thankfully, Jill Robinson's novel has another thing going for it that Bridget doesn't - a social context.

While Bridget exists in an apolitical vacuum where job and boyfriends are the only concerns, Jess's story touches areas of modern British life that are rarely even discussed in newspapers. As a church-goer and charitable soul - she worries, after another relationship has died a death that she is 'intended to be one of those middle aged spinsters John Major talked about, cycling around the parish, doing good works and attending evensong' - she comes into contact with the casualties of our ailing welfare system. Some of the strongest and most moving sections of the book are those dealing with a double amputee called Fred, whose fate can be laid squarely at the door of government cutbacks.

Jess herself is often the victim of a society that often doesn't have a space for her. With two teenage sons, little money and a degree that precludes her from most jobs, while her gender and age seem to bar her access to others, the fact that she still has time and energy to get furious with the system is endearing. While the men-hunting aspect on which Berringden Brow is being sold is entertaining enough (if you've ever wondered what 'honeymoon cystitis' is, your quest is at an end), it is the sections of suffering - and caring - which give the book a real, emotional punch. While Bridget is fluffy and forgettable, Berringden Brow will leave the reader haunted by the iniquities that people silently endure and hoping that people like Jess really do still exist. Does she get together with her librarian? That’s not really the point but, unlike Bridget’s petty dalliances, you'll find that you care.

Ian WInterton

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