Lancashire Times
Weekend Edition
Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
10:48 PM 15th December 2020

The Education Of Ivy Edwards By Hannah Tovey: A Review

The Education of Ivy Edwards, the debut novel of Hannah Tovey published earlier this year, is perhaps best summed up as a warming hug from a sympathetic friend who accepts all your faults, tolerates your laughable mistakes and says to you, “we will get through this, together!”.

My one piece of advice to readers embarking, alongside our protagonist, Ivy, on her journey into singlehood is brace yourself. Because this novel, whilst funny, is also very frank, even at times filthy. It is a story that many will relate to: the choices, more often bad than good, that we are left to make when our other halves decide, abruptly, to make a swift exit. It is certainly a book that will garner a loyal following, laughing all the way as Ivy stumbles precariously into her new found reality.

The novel opens with Ivy Edwards, who is thirty-one and making one of her frequent visits back home to South Wales. Her family are colourfully portrayed in the opening scenes: we meet her beloved, but equally irritating Mam, who is on her way to the golf club, despite not having the desire or ability to swing a golf club. We meet Gramps, who we quickly realise holds a profound place in Ivy’s heart. He complains that she hasn’t brought him the Sun to read, and her response is “Well, tough. This is actual journalism”. Their relationship is based on deep affection, peppered with terse exchanges when they disagree, and he is perhaps one of the few who can voice his genuine opinion on her life choices. Whilst we understand that the relationship of honesty and trust between Ivy and her grandfather permits a degree of truth, and indeed bluntness, we do also come to understand he is the type of man who will state his view, irrespective of the response it will provoke among his audience.

When her fiancé departs, Ivy quickly descends into a coping strategy that is sustained by plenty of alcohol, occasionally class A drugs and the support of her friends who might mean well, but really, don’t actually help. They provide the excuses: days of her meltdown become weeks, then months, and we, the reader, do fear for Ivy’s wellbeing. She is lucky in that her job gives her the benefit of the doubt, her landlord is a family friend and her journey into the summer of singlehood does come with many a moment that will cause a chuckle, or at least a wry smile.

Hannah Tovey
Hannah Tovey
Thematically, the novel explores how we come to decide what really is important in the grand scheme of things. Her friends, the jobbing actress Mia, and Dan, who can always be relied upon to go “out out” even if it is a Monday night, both have their own challenges, but to Ivy they show an unbreakable loyalty. Ivy’s elder sister, Anna, is perhaps one of the few characters who would appear to have their feet on firmer ground, but even she has her own troubles. The book explores loss, of lovers and loved ones, and how we experience the highs and lows of the roller coaster that life may become. It is about the importance of friends and family, who might along the way roll their eyes in exasperation at the choices we make, but beneath this, I believe there is a message of acceptance. There are periods in all our lives to which we will look back and laugh, or cringe (or both) and this novel lays it all out in a frank, touchingly candid manner. I think the message to the reader is: life can be rubbish, but blips happen; often it’s just a passing phase. In years to come, it will be a story you will laugh at when you recount it to others, should you find yourself able to emerge from the shame that is usually the first response you experience!

We have a host of wonderfully lively, idiosyncratic characters, with features we will recognise, whether from our own family, or from those in our wider circles. There are stereotypes: the mother who seeks resolution in gin, the line manager who comes across as a cow, the older, infinitely more sensible sister with her own vault of personal demons, and, of course, the dashingly handsome rebounds we attempt to bed. It is propelled by equally lively dialogue: the bitchy but tender exchanges, the attempts at genuine affection between generations of a family, the use of vernacular to define the South Wales community that is embraced by, and embraces, Ivy back into its heart when she returns from the distant city of London.

The Education of Ivy Edwards is a novel that will have a specific, but I would imagine, popular appeal. I believe it would be the type of novel that would delight lovers of Fleabag (I think that the classification of that as ‘tragicomedy’ is similarly apt to this book). It is a story that I am sure will cause many to laugh out loud, feel sympathy, empathy, and even move towards a deep fondness for Ivy. In some ways, readers who have been there, done that and got the t-shirt, might feel compelled to take her under a protective wing and provide words of wisdom.

It is not a book into which you dig deep to find meaning; instead it offers more in the spirit of catharsis. If you are in the throes of a break up, you will see you are not alone and, possibly, the story might prompt you to realise that it is time now to move on. If you’ve been through it in the past, you’ll empathise whilst shaking your head in amusement at the extent of Ivy’s pathos. Above all, the book explores the flaws in human character, but it isn’t there to provide philosophical analysis: for now, it is there to just make us laugh, and possibly, even shed a tear or two.

The Education of Ivy Edwards by Hannah Tovey is published by Piatkus, an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group