Here Come the Girls by Milly Johnson

I’ve found myself reading a lot of crime novels recently, and while I have really enjoyed the majority of them, I felt the urge to read a novel from a genre that I hadn’t crossed paths with in quite a while, chick lit. (Sorry to anyone reading this who finds the term “chick lit” offensive, but that is another debate for another time!) I didn’t take a lot of time to choose this book, I just had a quick browse on Amazon, but the title drew me in straight away, with images of a group of friends (my friends, perhaps) strutting their stuff, catching my imagination.

Here Come the Girls is about a group of four school friends who, as they optimistically imagine their futures in the way only teenagers can, make a pact with each other to go on a cruise when they are forty, in a bid to out-do the school show-off. Of course, life rarely follows teenage dreams and when Venice Smith’s fortieth birthday is approaching, a cruise is the last thing on the four girls minds, as three of them meet each Saturday for coffee and cake. Venice, or Ven, is recently (unamicably) divorced, has recently lost her parents and is living alone with her old cat, Ethel, in her parent’s old house. Olive is a downtrodden wife to benefit-scamming husband, David, rushing from one cleaning job to the next whilst caring for David’s vile mother for no thanks whatsoever. Roz should be happy with her hunky, besotted mechanic partner, Manus, but thanks to a dreadful first marriage and a confession four years previously from Manus that a kiss had occurred with her best friend Frankie, Roz has become bitter and thoroughly unpleasant to poor Manus, who is on the verge of giving up on the woman he loves, thinking there is no hope for them. Frankie is nowhere to be seen at the coffee and cake meetings but is spoken about, with caution by Ven and Olive, and with pure vitriol by Roz. There is obviously some big secret that the reader isn’t privy too yet, and by all accounts, neither is Roz, but Ven and Olive have apparently been sworn to secrecy by Frankie.

After we get a glimpse into the home-lives of Ven, Olive and Roz, the girls meet again, but Ven has big news. She has won a competition for writing a slogan for a magazine, and she has won a cruise for them all to go on, all expenses paid by the magazine. Ven gives them a cheque each for £500 for holiday clothes and Roz welcomes the break from her tumultuous relationship, while Olive decides, grudgingly, that she can’t possibly leave David, with his bad back, and his invalid mother to look after themselves. However, thanks to a banging headache, Olive unwittingly finds out the truth about her lazy husband and mother-in-law, and the three girls head off on a coach to Southampton to begin the cruise of a lifetime. Determined to have all her girls with her, Ven also has a surprise for Roz and Olive – Frankie is invited too.

I’m not going to go too much more into the plot as I wouldn’t want to spoil it. However, there are a few surprises along the way and a few shocks too. Although a little predictable at times, there is enough drama to keep the reader wanting more. Along the way, the girls learn a lot about themselves and each other and they see sides of each other that they have not seen before, despite the longevity of their relationship. The girls are offered choices throughout; to settle for what they have or to finally follow their dreams, made before life got in the way.

The narrative is beautifully written, with just the right amount of mystery to keep the reader guessing. There are endless multisensory descriptions of the various European locations, copious mouth-watering meals and hilarious regular “cruisers” to make the plot flow seamlessly. Of course, there is also a gorgeous captain to imagine, with a sexy Irish lilt and salt and pepper hair, set off by the handsome uniform. An Officer and a Gentleman, eat your heart out!

I couldn’t help but cheer these girls on and I was willing them to overcome the obstacles put in front of them. The glimpses of what was going on back home further enhanced this. There are trips down memory lane throughout and some very funny scenarios which had me laughing out loud so much, my better half thought I’d lost the plot! Ultimately, I wanted these somewhat downtrodden women, who had such high hopes when they were at school, to find true happiness.

Who doesn’t wish they were in this situation, able to take their best friends on a holiday of a lifetime, away from the drudgery of real life? I certainly would, and if I ever find myself in Ven’s situation, I absolutely will! I loved this novel for its down-to-earth characters, the sumptuousness of the cruise ship and the beautiful locations that it takes them to, but mostly because, for the few hours that I was reading this book, I could imagine that perhaps, if you try hard enough, you can find all those things that you imagined for yourself when you were at school and you can take the chances that, once adulthood arrived, got abandoned. Anyone who wants a pick-me-up or a heartwarming story should read this book. I will definitely be seeking out Milly Johnson’s other novels in the near future. Perfect holiday reading!