07 April 2010

All the Nice Girls (Joan Bakewell)

This book should serve as a cautionary tale for those journalists who attempt to write novels. Say it with me people- journalism is different to novel-writing.

Joan Bakewell has written All the Nice Girls, which is her debut novel. I would mention her age, but a recent article in the Guardian on Bakewell stated that she hated people talking about her age. And calling her the 'Thinking Man's Crumpet'. Fortunately, I am a tactful and gracious reviewer and will raise neither issue.

But, CHOLERA, this book was bad. Confession- I did not finish it. I had to go to Madrid and I had a limited amount of time to pack. With five minutes to go before I had to rush out the door I tried to decide which book to take. All the Nice Girls was the obvious choice, as I was half-way through it. Instead, the white rabbit gesticulating wildly to the time, I speed-read through the first chapters of my three other options and chose from one of them. I almost missed my bus to the airport and then failed to open the covers of this new book for the entire trip.

Anyway, you've been warned, I did not finish the book, but I am going to critique it anyway. The fundamental flaw of this novel was the detail that Bakewell CRAMMED in. There are well-researched novels and then there are novels which would have nothing left if the detail were taken out. Nothing at all, not a single word would remain, were I to extract all the ridiculous details that were included.

That is a bit of a lie. I admit, there was a story. The narrative seemed (remember, I haven't finished it) to be constructed from an extremely rickety triumvirate of plot lines- a ship in WW2 that a girl's school adopts; a mother who is unsure if she should give her daughter a kidney; and an illegitimate love child. Unlike the milking stool, the tripod and the surety of the number of events that are going to occur, this triumvirate is more akin in stability to the three-wheeled car from Mr. Bean. Prop it up with characters who are mostly flat and occasionally horrid and voilĂ , Britain has yet another uninspired wartime romance novel to stuff onto its shelves.

Bakewell, I have no doubt, is an extremely intelligent woman. That is why she is the Thinking Man's Crumpet. I assume that is why she treats the reader like an idiot. Every thought is reasserted, every joke explained, every emotion analysed with historically accurate pop psychology. Competent writing? Absolutely. As scintillating as a documentary on the migratory habits of octogenarians in the South of England? Just about.

I would just like to take this opportunity to get on my virtual soapbox, now that I have your attention, and extrapolate further on one part of the story that particularly upset me. I have always been confused by people who wanted to sell their organs to pay for things like their children's ballet lessons. What if that child needs a kidney later on and you can't give her one because you gave it up for sodding ronds de jambe? Then we have this woman, Millie, who doesn't want to give her daughter on dialysis her kidney. She feels resentment towards the doctor who assumes she will. I did not finish the story and I'm assuming she has some sort of change of heart but really. REALLY. How could anyone have a child in need and not give up an organ they will not miss? WE HAVE TWO!

To be fair, I will not give this book a rating, as I did not finish it. But you would be correct if you had suspicions that I did not enjoy this book in the slightest.
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