Title: Happy Hour
Author: Jacquie Byron
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Published: September 2021
Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron is her debut novel that is wonderfully funny and such a joyful read. Franny Calderwood lost her husband Frank three years earlier in a tragic accident. The accident leaves her heartbroken and lonely and follows the 65-year-old’s journey to healing and learning how to combat this new life without Frank. Accompanied by her two faithful dogs, Whisky and Soda, Franny does everything she can to keep away from the world outside her. When new neighbours, the Salernos arrive next door Sallyanne, Dee and Josh throw all the ideas Franny had about getting old out the window.
Byron’s writing is very easy to read: Franny was a delightful yet sarcastic older woman who made me laugh out loud throughout the story. Through her blunt humour, Franny gives the impression that her heart isn’t broken at all. But when the Salernos arrive the humour is amped up and Franny gradually meshes into this slightly flawed family unit, who help her grow and work through her grief.
Although often light-hearted and joyful this novel did not shy away from themes of grief, loss, and examining how people cope differently with grief. Byron presents Franny’s journey of grief so poignantly that you cannot help but empathise with her, even when she may make a wrong decision or two. The novel’s presentation of everlasting love through Franny and Frank’s relationship was heartbreaking, but makes you feel as if you have lived their life with them as we get flashbacks and memories of their life together. The coping mechanisms adopted by Franny in the novel, though questionable, are important to discuss and examine, even if the novel is ultimately a fun and happy one.
The interactions between Franny and her new neighbours are what makes the book so special. She becomes the “granny,” and reading the interactions between Franny and little Josh always left me feeling warm and fuzzy. Franny does a lot for the Salerno family, and when she helps Dee out with school or helps Sallyanne by looking after the kids, even when she doesn’t want to, makes you love her even more. What I grasped most in this novel was that our journeys with grief are all unique. Struggling with loss and change is something we need people to help us out with, whether they be family, friends, or pesky new neighbours.
Byron has created a fantastic character that readers can love to hate, but also one whom they can ultimately, barrack for. The novel touches deep spots in your heart when you weren’t expecting it to and the love story between Franny and Frank reminds you of all the old-timers who have been at this love thing for far longer than some of us can even begin to imagine. If you’re waiting for a sign to pick up something new to read this month, here it is, Happy Hour will leave you with a smile on your face long after the story is finished.