Monday, 10 June 2013

This One is Mine by Maria Semple

published 2008





[Sally’s wedding at her brother’s house means she has to walk through the garage to the ceremony]

Sally, an opaline vision of silk and lace, navigated the carport. Maryam dutifully followed, holding the bride’s five-foot train.

“Careful of the bikes,” Sally warned, then stopped suddenly before she stepped in a puddle of oil. Maryam smacked into her. “Watch out!” said Sally.

“What are you doing?”

“Uh, trying not to ruin my dress?”…

The tulle mushroom cloud was silent. Sally lifted her dress with one hand and reached for the Mercedes mirror with the other, careful to keep arm’s length from the dusty car. She hurdled the oil spill… “Oh God!”cried Maryam. Sally turned. Her follower was splayed on the concrete, Sally’s train triumphantly overhead. Sally grabbed the wad of lace.

“Did I get dirty?” Maryam scrambled to her feet. Black goo covered one side of her dress, arm and leg.



observations: In the recent entry on Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, we touched on the question of whether characters in novels should be likeable or not. It’s a big topic these days, and a lot of authors make rather eyebrow-raising comments about what readers should or shouldn’t do. This book is an object lesson in what can go wrong.

Like many people (apparently) I came to it because I loved her more recent Where'd You go Bernadette so much. This one isn’t anything like as good (if I’d read it first I wouldn’t have been rushing to read Bernadette). What seems to have changed is that the characters are (mostly) just as dippy and weird, and set on disastrous courses in life, but she made them much more likeable for the 2nd book. And so while Bernadette (shortlisted for, but didn't win, the Women's Fiction Prize) is a joy to read, this one is patchily entertaining.

It’s got some very funny moments, and set-piece scenes like the disastrous wedding above (‘they’re eating the cupcakes too soon!’) and you get sufficiently engaged with the characters that you are forever shutting your eyes and saying ‘please don’t do that’ as they career around LA making the worst possible decisions and being uniformly vile to each other. (The book reminded me of Joan Didion’s Play it as it Lays). Semple has clever observations, great descriptions of looking after children, and quick, 3-sentence summings up of people – the secretary, the realtor, the nanny’s t-shirts. The band Def Leppard do not come off well in the book.

You can see the direct line from this book to her next one. Now all Semple has to do is lose the annoying child narrator who took the edge off the final part of Bernadette, and move on to a third novel which will be even better. (If authors can give readers advice...)

Links up with: The book has something in common with The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

The wedding photo is by blog regular PerryPhotography. The dress is by the Italian firm De Cesari.

4 comments:

  1. Haven't heard of this book, Moira but it does sound interesting. I do read books as I like the characters. It's like re-finding old friends. IT sometimes seems less hard work.

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  2. Thank you for crediting De Cesari as designer/maker. She has a wonderful shop in Lucca and if you are ever back here I will take you there.

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  3. Moira - You really do raise an interesting question about whether we need to like characters to be engaged in a book. Oh, and I like your expression, patchily entertaining - it's quite appropriate and descriptive :-)

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  4. Dee - I would love to see her clothes...the pictures I've seen have been fabulous

    Margot - yes, it's an interesting question isn't it. There's a lot to it.

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