When I picked up this book in Waterstones, it was with a caption card that compared it to the likes of The Rosie Project, which is a book I completely fell in love with. And while I can kind of see why you would compare them because of their protagonists, this book fell way short of the mark for me.
“In Susan we find a character as exasperating and delightful as The Rosie Project’s Don Tillman.”. Exasperating, yes. Delightful, not so much.
In The Rosie Project, although Don was slightly obnoxious and extremely blunt, he had an endearing quality which meant it was quite easy to warm to him. In The Cactus, I’m afraid I just couldn’t warm to Susan at all, I found her unnecessarily rude and completely oblivious to anyone else’s feelings.
It’s kind of addressed by the main character herself, when she lends a book to her neighbour and they have this exchange:
‘I quite liked it,’ she said, ‘but I didn’t get Miss Brodie. She didn’t seem very likeable. I can’t enjoy a book if I don’t warm to the main character.’
‘I disagree. I’d rather read about someone interesting than someone who’s just nice.’
Unfortunately, I side more with Susan’s neighbour – I can’t enjoy a book if I don’t warm to the main character, and Susan left me feeling cold. I understand that you’re supposed to realise that Susan is a product of her upbringing (no spoilers here), but to me, it just wasn’t a good enough excuse.
We do see Susan start to defrost a little bit as time goes on in the book, despite the legal drama that she’s going through, and I do think she turns a corner in terms of relationships – gradually, mind. But I definitely found myself more attuned with the side characters like Rob than I ever was with her.
I can see why people would enjoy this book – it’s a Richard and Judy book club choice so it definitely has fans, but unfortunately it just wasn’t really for me.