People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green—a prickly independent woman, who has everything just the way she wants it and who certainly has no need for messy emotional relationships.

Family and colleagues find her standoffish and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that’s all she needs.

At forty-five, 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.

When she discovers that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.

This sparkling debut is a breath of fresh air with real heart and a powerful emotional punch. In Susan we find a character as exasperating and delightful as The Rosie Project’s Don Tillman. An uncompromising feminist and a fierce fighter, it’s a joy to watch her bloom.

Susan Green is a 45 year old single woman with a very particular lifestyle and world view. She’s very set in her ways and routines, not very good with people, and from the privileged point of view we have – inside her head, seeing her thoughts as well as her words – we very quickly began to suspect that she may be on the autistic spectrum.

At the very beginning of the book, we, along with Susan, learn that her Mum has died from a stroke. Pragmatic as ever, she goes off to work as normal, and goes about making arrangements to attend the funeral. She doesn’t tell anyone.

As we learn more about her, we discover that Susan did not have the best start in life. Her Dad was an alcoholic and her Mum always favoured Susan’s younger brother, the feckless Edward, who still lives in the family home. Because of the mollycoddling Edward received as a boy, he has grown into a middle aged man seemingly incapable of doing much other than falling into and out of the pub of an evening, and living a lifestyle that Susan finds almost offensive. Feeling rebuffed, Susan learned to look after herself and has locked away many of the bad memories she has, becoming fiercely independent, with a good, steady job, her own flat in London, and a life that she feels she is completely at ease with. She even has a ‘friends with benefits’ style relationship with Richard, a mutual arrangement that has been going on for over a decade; meeting a few times a week, and going off to live their separate lives after their dates are over. This suits Susan down to the ground – a relationship would just get in the way of her routine, and why would she want that? The prickles are showing.

The main story arc is based around Susan’s sense of betrayal and injustice when she discovers that her Mum has left Edward a life-long interest in the family home; meaning that the house can only be sold and the proceeds divided between the two siblings once he is prepared to move out – and let’s face it, with a free 4-bed house in a nice part of Birmingham, that isn’t going to be anytime soon. Susan becomes convinced that her Mum was not of sound mind when she wrote the will – she’d had several strokes after all – and sets about trying to prove it. It might sound like she has an axe to grind and is simply jealous of her brother – but there’s something she might be needing that money for very soon…

As I started to read The Cactus,  thought it would divide people over whether or not they could relate to the main character – Eleanor Oliphant was a huge success because although Eleanor was a little…odd…so many people took to her. Susan is a different kettle of fish, in that she seems outright rude to people, but again, being inside her head, you see that it isn’t meant to be rude – it’s just the way she’s wired. The story flips her life around quite brutally – the Susan you know at the end of the book isn’t the one you started reading about, and it’s enjoyable watching her character develop, open up, and change – even if she’s not at all sure about doing it.

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book via Netgalley in return for an honest review. Although I guessed some of the reveal early on, I did enjoy it and think it will probably be a big hit – fans of Eleanor Oliphant and the Rosie Project will enjoy it, if they can bond with Susan. I liked her – although stand-offish and downright rude at times, especially with irritating family members and colleagues, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all wanted to channel a little of Susan’s attitude sometimes!