Released: August 2015
When life kicks us down, it can be tempting to just give everything up and start again elsewhere. Lifelong friends Susan and Julie decide they’ve had enough of boring suburban England and admirably turn this fantasy into reality.
Their 60th birthdays are fast approaching, but they’re not exactly in a celebratory mood. For years, Susan has been ostensibly complacent with her accountant husband Barry. In reality, she has little in common with him and they’ve been sleeping in separate beds for a while. Being in charge of make-up at her local theatre isn’t the way she wanted to use her art degree and she feels unfulfilled. She lost her wild streak as she grew older; her days of flashing her knickers at passing buses are now long gone. Julie has had more setbacks than she can count and has wound up cleaning in a residential home, barely able to pay her bills. She’s had an adventurous life and her 60th birthday reminds her that her fun is going to be limited in future.
Everything changes after Barry is found dead in a secret sex dungeon he’s been running for years, leaving Susan in nearly half a million pounds worth of debt. The bank aren’t willing to help Susan get out of this mess, and after a few vodkas she has the perfect solution to her financial problems: arrange a bank robbery. Julie is all for the idea, and they consult 89-year-old Nails, a friend of Julie’s who specialised in bank robberies many years ago. They convince a couple of others to get on board: 67-year-old Jill, who needs £30,000 for her grandson’s life-saving operation, and fun-loving Ethel from the residential home.
The eccentric group get ready to embark upon the most dangerous and exciting journey of their lives. They plan their heist to the last detail, prepare their weapons and don their balaclavas emblazoned with swear words. Right under the noses of bumbling Detective Sergeant Boscombe and his partner Wesley, the eccentric bunch sensationally complete the robbery and escape in their Cancer Care minibus. Susan, Julie, Ethel and Jill go on the run without Nails and face a new set of challenges. They no longer have time to plot their next moves, simply making it up as they go along.
Their miraculous trip to France puts them one step ahead of the British police, but they still have some serious problems to deal with. However, these remarkably resourceful ladies take everything in their stride, remaining optimistic and good-humoured throughout the ordeal. The Sunshine Cruise Company plot itself is side-splittingly funny, but it’s the hilarious characters that add magic to this story. Foul-mouthed Ethel is the standout personality; she may be wheelchair-bound, but the police force and a Russian gangster are no match for her. John Niven has a real gift for taking elements of ordinary life and making them extraordinary.
The author of popular titles such as Kill Your Friends and Straight White Male has penned yet another stellar novel. Two of Niven’s books are currently being adapted into movies, and it would be great if this moving tale of friendship, ageing and living life to the full shared the same fate.