The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

I confess, the cover pulled me in on this one.  The title of this book very accurately refers to the protagonist in this story, Susan, a rather prickly 40-something independent woman who finds herself pregnant as a result of a longstanding friends-with-benefits relationship.  To add to her stress, her mother has recently passed away and she is left to deal with the estate alongside her brother Edward, an irresponsible partyer with no steady job or purpose in life. 

When Susan learns that her mother has left the house to Edward, she sets out to prove she was taken advantage of.  So begins Susan’s journey of coming to terms with her impending motherhood while trying to secure an inheritance for herself and her child.  Susan begins to dig into her mother’s medical records, starts talking to neighbors and reconnects with Aunt Sylvia, her mother’s sister.

Along the way, she finds an unexpected ally in Rob, a friend of her brother’s from “university”, who she initially suspects is in cahoots with her brother. She also finds a friend in neighbor Kate, a young mother recently separated.  Chapters are split into months as we see Susan’s pregnancy progress while she learns things about her mother including a long kept secret that will change how she perceives herself, her brother and their childhood. 

The book is a journey of self-discovery and new experiences for Susan.  She’s not particularly likeable but not quite the curmudgeon.  She is very no-nonsense and logical, to a point that some of her assumptions and expectations are somewhat absurd.  When her life plan is thrown off course, she adapts along the way and finally allows someone to get past her prickly exterior. 

The Cactus is set in London and is written with a fair sprinkling of British vernacular.  Fans of A Man called Ove may enjoy this one.