I’d been hearing such good things about The Cactus by Sarah Haywood that I broke my own self-imposed Netgalley ban and successfully requested a copy of the book, only to discover when I was sorting out some unread books from my TBR that lovely Alice Herbert at John Murrays and Two Roads Books had already sent me a beautiful hard backed copy a year ago and I had bought another copy when it came out in paperback! Consequently, I thought it was about time I got round to reading The Cactus and reviewing it.
The Cactus is available for purchase here.
It’s never too late to bloom … People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green – family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself.
Age 45, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward – a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits.
Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control. And things can only get worse … at least in Susan’s eyes.
My Review of The Cactus
Susan enjoys life on her own controlling terms, but life has a habit of misbehaving.
I so enjoyed The Cactus because every word I read could have been spoken by someone I know well. As a result, The Cactus made me grin inanely the whole time I was reading – or rather, listening to what Susan had to say, as it seemed as if she were speaking directly to me in conversation. I found it very funny and, ultimately, quite moving too.
The Cactus is a brilliantly ascerbic insight into Susan’s life told with the wit and intelligence of a modern Jane Austen in Sarah Haywood’s writing. I thought it was so entertaining. Cleverly plotted, in The Cactus Susan has to learn that life may not always conform to her stringent, and to her, perfectly logical, demands. She cannot simply rearrange things for the best possible outcome as she might the cacti on her desk. The analogy between her personality and the cacti was so perfect. I didn’t much like the prickly, forthright, and occasionally vindictive Susan initially even if I found myself agreeing with her more often than I might like to admit, but the more she ‘spoke’ to me, the more I came to love her. And I genuinely do find it difficult to think of Susan as a character in a fiction and not a real person. She’s such a striking and vivid individual. I actually felt quite envious of her at times. I’d love some of that unwavering confidence in her own self-worth and rightness that she displays in the early part of the story. Indeed, it is evidence of the quality of Sarah Haywood’s writing that I didn’t like her protagonist at all to begin with but I couldn’t stop reading about her. I felt compelled to find out what happened to Susan.
The plot of this novel is so believable so that the themes of identity, relationships, nature and nurture, belonging and isolation in The Cactus elevate it from an amusing and entertaining read to a book that also shines a light on what makes us who we are. Along with cacti, Sarah Heywood illustrates that people also have the ability to thrive and bloom given the right conditions.
I suspect Susan’s character will divide readers of The Cactus, but I thought she was brilliantly depicted, utterly believable and I adored meeting her through Sarah Heyward’s adept and accomplished writing. I really recommend The Cactus.
About Sarah Haywood
Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. After studying Law, she worked in London and Birkenhead as a solicitor, in Toxteth as an advice worker, and in Manchester as an investigator of complaints about lawyers. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University, and lives in Liverpool with her husband, two sons and two ginger cats.