“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.”
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 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.”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.
“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.