Gym and Slimline – Emma Burstall

I have been revisiting some of my early reviews that were before the conception of this blog. One of them, is the very first ARC I got. It was spiral bound and I was most excited to read it for a magazine, especially as I got £30 for doing so. The only time I have been paid for my writing I hasten to add. The review had to be a lot shorter than what you see below. 

However, it first introduced me to Emma Burstall and I have read all of her books since. Her most recent one being Tremarnock. I have seen an author manage to embrace female friendships, deal with some pretty tough problems and watch the author’s writing change. Tremarnock is a long way from Gym and Slimline, but it still has had the same impact and I have followed the author with interest. 

The Review:

This book is about four women who make the decision to join the new local gym and become involved in each others lives not just in the classes but also outside as well. They all have their secrets and passions which they choose not to share with the entire group, but keep to them and portray an image of coping well with whatever life throws at them.

There is no timescale to this book, you have no sense of how long a period of time these events are taking but they are happening and it is very much real for Percy, Suzanne, Patrice and Carmen. The author cleverly uses a class timetable to split the book up and we are launched straight into the warm up (very important!) introducing us to all the main characters and a little bit about each of them. As the story develops and the girls find new classes to inflict upon themselves we slowly find out more about them and their lives. This is what I think makes a good book, to tell us everything in the first few pages means you can lose interest in the plot and lose faith in the characters if you know everything there is to know about them. 

Percy is trying to hold everything together, whilst her marriage is seemingly crumbling around her and her addiction is just getting out of control. Suzanne is trying to balance the fact that she is a successful career woman with four children that need her time and love but also a younger husband that just might be fed up of being walked over. Patrice is stuck in a sexless controlling marriage and cannot see a way out without causing upset, and just why is her husband behaving in such a strange way. Carmen is determined not to be the only one who doesn’t have children and plots to change the situation.

The relationships these characters have are all intertwined and weave nicely throughout the book. At times (like life) it is only just a couple of them, or all of them trying to make sense of what is happening but without actually sharing all the detail with each other.

The author has used some very modern references within this book to relate it to the here and now, anyone who goes to the gym will recognise the class names, the equipment used even the descriptions of the changing rooms are spot on in my opinion. The issues the four women deal with were perhaps common seventy years ago but they were not dealt with in such an upfront way. Percy’s addiction is an old one but with a modern twist on it and Suzanne’s situation is perhaps becoming more and more common. Patrice is dealing with a problem which in the past would have been not talked about and swept under the carpet. Carmen’s dreams were shattered and she is still trying to rebuild them.

A great book for escaping into and you will be drawn into their story very quickly and very easy. Worth a read.

First published on Amazon Aug 2008