Category Archives: Popular Fiction

According to Yes by Dawn French

9781405920575What would happen if you lived your life according to yes? If every time you would typically say ‘no,’ you turned the answer on its head and said ‘yes.’ Would you be happier? Get yourself into trouble? Break the law, or live with satisfaction?

Would you turn a harmless flirtation into something more complex? Would you allow decadence to make way for gluttony? Would you become broke? Or perhaps more wealthy because you took a risk. Could saying ‘yes’ all the time possibly give you a true sense of freedom and contentment? Would it allow you to be who you truly seek to be?

In Dawn French’s new book, our heroine, 38 year old Rosie Kitto, decides to live her life examining this exact concept. It’s a new approach for this eccentric and vivacious character. She has been scarred by saying and hearing ‘no’ for a long time, and looking to heal, she takes a plunge and moves away from her home country and some old ways of thinking.

She moves to the centre of wealth, Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Where the filthy rich hob-nob and exist with decorum and class. Where behaviour, appearance and sophistication matter. It’s a dangerous environment for a quirky, outspoken and wind-swept Brit, wearing bright red brogues.

Employed as a Nanny to the Wilder-Bingham grandchildren, Rosie encounters her exact opposite in Glenn Wilder-Bingham – the family matriarch. She is emotionless, clinical and coiffed. Cold and judgemental in her interactions with the family, and outright hostile to the new Nanny, Rosie.

The dynamic between polar opposites Rosie & Glenn is entertaining enough, but then add curious twin grandsons, an alcoholic divorcee hiding his own secrets, and a likable grandfather with a cheeky streak and the plot becomes pretty gripping.

This is a super easy read, with great pace, laugh out loud humour, and sometimes squeamish moments where Rosie chooses ‘yes’ whilst you are screaming ‘no!’ Yet even as she takes some unthinkable risks (particularly of the shagging nature) and is somewhat irritating in her laissez-faire attitude, she remains unwaveringly likeable.

There are some really funny and honest moments between Rosie and the twin ‘chaps’ which reminded me of my own parenting fails. Like when you know you shouldn’t laugh, but when ‘for fucks sake Mummy’ is just too hilarious coming out of a three year olds tiny mouth. French develops her young characters with particular finesse.

This is a perfect summer read, and Dawn French is fast becoming one of my favourite voices in comedic and dramatic fiction.

dawn-french-1.gif

In short: Yes!

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

lost n fI recently had to tell my toddler that our beloved family pet had died. I was dreading the conversation, knew it would be coming soon. Our gentle beagle boy was very old, lived a rich and utterly spoiled life, but was riddled with tumours, and we expected it to be any day.

How do you explain death to a child without frightening them? Without confusing them, or, if I’m honest, inviting questions that I had no idea how to answer.

When I told her, I said ‘I have some sad news.’ Told her that he had died last night and that it was ok for us to feel upset because we will miss him.

“Will he go to the vet?”

“He went to the vet darlin, but he was too old to fix.”

“Will we still see him?”

“No.”

“But I love him.”

And that was it. As a child, she was able to articulate in four words, the unfairness and grief of losing someone you love. As adults, we wrap grief in complexities, in conditioning and expectations of how we should feel. We then add remorse… or worse; guilt, and then try to follow a process that allows us to cope. But ultimately, aren’t we thinking the same thing as my little girl? But I love them. It’s not fair. I want to see them again.  

That childish insight is exactly what makes the book Lost and Found so breathtaking and so engrossing. Death through the eyes of pragmatic seven year old Millie Bird. Millie examines death with curiosity and naivety, and when her own father dies, and her mother abandons her in a shopping centre you will want to bundle her into your arms and take care of her.

It’s clever, it’s authentic, and it’s heartbreaking.

Soon Millie crosses paths with two older characters who are struggling to make sense of loss and love, just as much as their little counterpart.

Karl the Touch Typist is eighty seven when he farewells his beloved Evie, and his son kisses him on the cheek, leaving him in a nursing home. Seeking something else, he escapes the home to go in search of meaning and purpose.

Agatha Pantha is eighty two and has confined herself to her house since her husband died. She is eccentric and belligerent, hurling abuse at passers-by and complete strangers. Until she spies a little girl, obviously living alone in a house across the street.

The writing is perfection. You will slip comfortably into the Australian landscape, as Davis sets the scene with the nuances of our urban and rural culture. You will see Millie in your local shopping centre, see Karl clutching a coffee mug in a café you have visited, and hear Agatha screaming insults from a familiar home on a tree lined street in the ‘burbs.

Davis has created a tale that is both hilarious and healing. It makes you ask questions. It immerses you in each character, their memories and their discoveries.

Whilst the concept of loss is woven into each chapter, there is also an underlying theme of humour, self-reflection, and the intricacies of human interaction. It’s as much about living as it is about death, and at the heart of it all are three lovely characters; unlikely friends who take you on a moving journey to find Millie’s Mum… and something else.

In Short: Read with a lump in your throat and a smile on your lips.

SPEED REVIEW: The Book of Love by Phillipa Fioretti

book of love2At first glance, this book is full of fluff. References to a self-styled queen of fashion, a dashing Russian, and a ‘seductive mystery that will steal your heart,’ put me way off for fear of nonsense and romance.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I entered a world of rare antiquities (of the bookish kind) a determined heroine, and a missing boyfriend who may well have met with the foulest of play. Set in a Sydney second hand bookshop, and then landing firmly in the bustling streets of Rome, the pace is fast, the humour dry, and the adventure is palpable.

There is no doubting this book is chick lit. But it also has substance, humour and a good old fashioned mystery at its core, which makes it an excellent beach read or gift for a girlfriend.

In Short: Chick Lit with Substance

Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

Oh dear

An easy, engaging read which contains real LOL moments, tear jerking scenes and heart racing character twists.  Dawn French has created a smart and satisfying tale.

Set in an intensive care unit, we meet the central character Silvia, who is in a coma.  What is clever is the only way we get to know her is through her visitor’s memories and dialogue.  We gradually learn pieces of her story as each chapter is constructed from the point-of-view of each different bedside companion.

Throughout the course of these visits, I felt an underlying notion that Silvia was gone for good, although I’d also be willing her to wake, and that outcome felt desperately possible too.  It presented a strange sort of tension in addition to what each character delivered.

We meet Silvia’s estranged daughter, her ex-husband, her bohemian sister, her housekeeper, her BFF and her nurse.

The characters are richly woven, lovable, hateable and moving.

Some of the more amusing and tender moments come from the ‘interaction’ between her and her Jamaican nurse, Winnie, who is well rehearsed at helping people move closer to the end.  Her own backstory is a highlight, as is the humour and warmth of Silvia’s housekeeper Tia who owns some of the most memorable and funny parts.

I must admit, I felt detached from Silvia and angry with her on behalf of her estranged kids.  Even though Silvia seemed irrelevant at times (her visitors became the heroes of the story) and it took a long time to understand HER full picture, this book touched me, made me cry, gave me a good belly laugh and twisted my thinking more than once.

In short: tickled my fancy and warmed my cockles.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gone-girl-high-resHave you heard about the cool girl syndrome? It’s the one that many women suffer from when they first start a relationship with a guy. It’s the one that makes us say: “Hey I’m cool with you staying out all night for a poker game with the boys. Want me to drop buy with bacon & egg rolls for you all in the morning?” It’s the one that makes us assert that there’s nothing wrong with watching porn or a visit to the strippers. It’s just window shopping right? “As long as he comes home to me I don’t care a bit. I’m not the jealous type.” It’s the one where you pretend to enjoy video games, and violent movies, and stay out all night drinking tequila shots and being super fun even though you have an 8am start the next day.

It’s no wonder men get confused as the relationship becomes long-term. All that stuff we used to be cool about, now makes us dish out the silent treatment. When we say we’re ‘fine’ with it: you know we’re not. But guys, we’ve actually always felt shit when you pull an all-nighter and ignore our texts. And we’ve never felt OK about someone else’s fanny gyrating in your lap. We spent our ‘quiet nights alone’ downing bottles of wine and Lean Cuisine, stalking your Facebook profiles and cursing you for not being a mind reader.

It is this very concept that is weaved subtly into Gone Girl. A book that sophisticated, compelling and a genuine thriller.

Written in the voice of the two main characters, the author introduces us to Nick and Amy, a married couple who met and lived a cosmopolitan life in New York. They have now moved to Nick’s hometown in Missouri and things have turned sour. On their fifth anniversary Amy goes missing, with evidence of a struggle in the home and all signs pointing to foul play.

What’s awesome about this story is that you get insights from both characters; Amy’s from her private journal, but there is still a sense of mystery and you never fully understand or believe either of them. Nick does not behave like a husband whose wife is missing, and the detectives are breathing down his neck (interesting folk in their own right.)

There’s a killer twist in this book, and there’s a risk that too much will be revealed if I carry on with the synopsis. Just know that it’s a captivating, unsettling crime drama that’ll keep you turning the pages and questioning your perception after each chapter.

There is no doubt that this book is Popular Fiction and will appeal to the edgier masses. It will likely enjoy the same mainstream success as Sebold and Picoult but it has more grit. It’s also worth mentioning that Hollywood has their hands on it, so watch out for spoilers in the media.

 

In short: Enjoy the twists and chills now; before the movie effs it up.