Not Working by Lisa Owens

published 2016

Not working 2

“Why are you dressed like an unwell teenager?” says Luke when I enter the kitchen.

“I need to be able to focus on the road. I can’t have my hair falling into my eyes or my sleeve getting caught on the emergency brake.”

Not working 3
We are hiring a car to visit Luke’s parents, therefore my attire (headband, tracksuit bottoms, thin-soled tennis shoes – no laces) has been carefully chosen for maximum comfort and minimum hazard.

“Time I dusted off my driver’s licence,” I said when I first had the idea. “Take control, be bold. Brave new world.”

“You go, girl.” Luke had snapped his fingers to and fro, though his eyes Not Working remained faithful to the soccer game.

Now he says, “Are you sure you’re OK to do this? I’d be really happy to drive.”

“Thanks, but I’ll be fine. I really want to,” I say.

commentary: This was another stop along the way in my attempt to read more varied books this year – normally I lurch between endless crime stories, books by great women authors of the mid-20th century, and engrossing, informative non-fiction.

This one is the standout so far – a complete winner, a brilliant unique book built in surroundings that are far from extraordinary. Claire Flannery has quit her so-so job in order to find out what it is she really wants to do in life. We follow her progress as she struggles with everyday life, watches what is going on around her, and thinks about her future. But if that sounds serious, it’s not – the book is completely hilarious, hysterically funny. But it is also thought-provoking, it makes really unusual observations on everyday life, and has moments of sadness and reality.

It is often wincingly honest, and sometimes you want to shake Claire as she behaves badly and says the wrong thing. There is an enigmatic plotline relating to incidents in her childhood – Owens walks a line here and I think succeeds, and that must have been very difficult to achieve.

The book has an unusual style – there are little headings for each paragraph, and some of the sections are just random jottings, stuff that Claire notices as she is out and about. She gets away with this potentially-dangerous structure. There are maybe 10 sections that I think are tending towards me-and-my-magazine-column style, and could have been ditched.

Another positive aspect is her relationship with her boyfriend Luke – it is sometimes problematic, but they both come over as really nice people, with a basically relaxed relationship. Can’t remember the last time I came across that in a book. Their conversations are wonderfully real. I loved this as they are watching a documentary about Missing Persons:
“Hey, that reminds me. Will you do me a favour?” I dab his leg with my foot. “If I ever disappear, please could you tell them to put me down as ‘medium build’? I’d take ‘slim’ or ‘slight’, obviously, but understand if that might be a push.”
“Medium,” he says. “I’ll try and remember.”
“I should pick out some photos just in case,” I say…. “I can’t imagine anything worse than being described as ‘heavyset’ on the 10 o’clock news.”
“What about ‘heavyset’ and ‘unemployed’?” asks Luke, going right for the jugular.

I’ve so far avoided one point of comparison: Bridget Jones. People are far too ready to bandy her name about – they sometimes seem never actually to have read any of Helen Fielding’s books when they do so. I am a huge fan of Jones, and have always claimed her Diaries are much better than their light-heartedness leads readers to believe. And so I would say the same about this book: Owens is a fabulous writer, and I hope she is going to write a shed-load more books.


  1. What an interesting way to go about telling the story, Moira. It sounds a bit like an adult coming-of-age novel, and I can see how that might work. It's good to know that Claire and Luke have a basically good relationship - so refreshing! And it sounds as though the story is an honest depiction of character - also a plus. Hmmmmm...not usually the sort of thing I reach for, but as you say, stepping out of the usual isn't always a bad thing.

    1. Trying something new is always interesting, isn't it? I definitely enjoyed this one - as you say, a kind of coming-of-age book.

  2. This book does sound interesting, but I have so many reading
    "projects" going now that I may never finish, not sure about adding it to my list. I might be more willing to try Bridget Jones first.

    1. Everyone should read Bridget Jones some time Tracy!

  3. Yes, great bit of dialogue! I also like Luke's eyes remaining 'faithful' to the football match. I know what you mean about your comfort zone. Mine is much the same. Let's try to get out of it next time we read the same book! Sometimes my multi-national reading group does that for me.

    1. multi-national sounds good. Every year I count the number of books I read in translation, and it's never as many as I would like! Yes we should definitely try something different next time, whether it's genre, language, style...

  4. I remember that after BRIDGET JONES came out, every single book on the shelves of the local bookstores seemed to be another version of it. It made some people rather contemptuous of it, but I decided to give the first book a go and found myself enjoying it. These sorts of book always look easy to write, hence the proliferation of rip-offs, but capturing lightning in a bottle isn't easy. Even Helen Fielding didn't really manage it with the recent sequel.

    1. Bridget Jones always seemed to me to be head and shoulders above the imitators - I thought the books were true comedies of manners. My line is always that if the world disappeared you could recreate the 90s from Bridget Jones and Adrian Mole. I enjoyed the recent one, but it wasn't the same.


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