Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Laughter Reviews, #15

Time for another book review with the focus: funny or not?

India Knight

Single mom seeks to re-enter the dating world with help of housemate.

What Works
The author has a breezy writing style that is very easy to read. The story is set in London, which for closet-anglophile Apprentice Writer is always a plus.

What Doesn't
The protagonist, Stella, spends a great deal of time making derisive comments about everyone around her. While this starts out to amusing effect, entertainment gradually morphs into distaste at the high mean-spiritedness quotient of it all. With the single exception of her toddler daughter, there is not one character in the entire book about whom Stella doesn't utter something negative.

So intent does the author seem on creating plot opportunities for Stella to make fun of others that there are times when plausibility is sacrificed. For example, Stella joins - and, more tellingly, remains in - a playgroup whose adult and child members she despises alike, for their lax attitude to safety, cleanliness, aggression, and discipline in general. Are readers really supposed to believe that there is such a lack of alternatives in one of the largest cities on Earth?
Stella's chronic feeling of superiority can also be hypocritical. She mocks the names of the playgroup children - yet named her daughter 'Honey'.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that part of Stella's problem is that she is bored. Having received a house and comfortable settlement following her second divorce, she can choose not to work. True, she cares for Honey (and as a SAHM Apprentice Writer is fully aware this is no small job), however Honey appears to be a non-demanding dream child, there is only one of her, and Stella has regular babysitting help - including overnight should she desire to go out on the town. Her lodger Frank does most of the cooking. There is no sense that she has any real hobbies or pursuits to capture her interest and exercise her undoubted intelligence. Thus, she exercises her sharp tongue, and spends a lot of time speculating on Frank's sex life. She reminded Apprentice Writer of an intensely annoying 'heroine' in an old Hitchcock movie whose title escapes her, in which a newlywed woman has more or less nothing to do, and proceeds to spend the movie's two-hour running length imagining her husband is plotting to murder her. Never did a woman need to take up jogging or macrame more.

There comes a point in the story when Stella realizes that she doesn't have any friends, save the one she recently made in playgroup - and even that friendship will die through Stella's actions by story's end. This reader experienced a burning desire to take silently-attracted-to-Stella Frank by the shoulders and shake him, shouting 'Open your eyes! This is a monster warning sign! HEED IT!'

Then again, Frank is an artist. Perhaps he thought a relationship with Stella would fulfill his torture quotient for inspiration.

The author received high praise for her first book, 'My Life on a Plate' (which, in admiration for the excellent title, Apprentice Writer still hopes to read) - perhaps this created a degree of stage-fright for this follow-up work? Perhaps there is some element of cross-cultural misunderstanding involved here?

Whatever the truth of the matter - Ms. Knight elicits strong reaction. In her 'real' life, she has a regular column in a British newspaper, and since the birth of a medically fragile daughter, appears to have become an advocate for parents struggling to cope with their children's complex conditions as well as a public educator on related issues. Apprentice Writer wishes her well in this endeavour.

But does it make you laugh?

Only if you enjoy very biting humor. The 'funny' in this book is definitely at the expense of others.


Anonymous said...

Good book review! I don't think I'd gel with Stella, but I love the title of the other book you mentioned, My Life on a Plate.

And I think the Hitchcock movie you're thinking of is Suspicion with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine! I'm a classic film buff. And hehe, you're right; Joan Fontaine's character really needed to find something interesting to do with herself! ;)

M. said...

that must be the one, because i do remember cary grant. who could ever believe cary grant would murder anyone?

julia said...

Good review. The idea that Stella makes fun of the other kids' names but has a daughter named Honey is a good indicator of the rest of the book's humour.

By the way - tag! You're it!

Wylie Kinson said...

Excellent review, m. Stella sounds like the Sarah Silverman of the playground (funny until you begin to cringe uncomfortably).