Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Barbara the Slut and Other People

Barbara the Slut and Other People Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This debut collection is essentially comedy of the banal. It's not bad, but it does seem to have been written by someone who's taken a writing class and has learned that stories don't need a structure or an ending. That's true, but in their absence something else needs to fill the gap. Also, the title and some of the publicity imply that this is a work of erotica, which it most certainly isn't.

There's a clue in the title "and other people", not "and other stories". These are vignettes: moments from people's lives. That would work better if the characterisation was deeper: if nothing is going to happen in terms of story, then something needs to happen in terms of character. Mostly it doesn't, or, when it does, the characters aren't deep enough for the reader to care.

In Desert Hearts, one of the more entertaining pieces, a law graduate gets a job in a sex shop (the reference to Jane Rule tells you it's a lesbian sex shop). All the gay clichés are there as this straight woman tries to pass off as gay, while her over-working boyfriend becomes increasingly distant. The story is moving inexorably towards a conclusion and Holmes knows it, so, to adhere to the diktat of Great Literature that 'nothing must happen', she simply kills the story, bluntly and implausibly.

The story that starts least promisingly is probably the best: My Humans, in which a couple's relationship is told through the eyes of their rescue dog. The simplicity of the dog's understanding allows the pathos of humans' feelings to come through; pathos that is absent from the characters in the other stories because Holmes doesn't dare show deep emotion. By focusing on the dog, she allows the humanity to shine through.

As an aside, these stories are strangely anachronistic for a collection published in 2015. Almost all the references, cultural and technological, seem to be from the 1990s: VHS, audio tape, Backstreet Boys.

On this evidence, Holmes is a writer of potential but perhaps she needs to emerge from the shadow of her tutors, who are numerously and profusely thanked in the acknowledgements (which appear prominently at the front of the book, not the back). At the moment, her work reads a little too much like exercises for a creative writing class.

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Review: Deutschland

Deutschland Deutschland by Martin Wagner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Deutschland is a short book, detailing a few days in summer for one family. Richard, Suzannah's American second husband, is wrestling with an unspecified guilt. Kate, Suzannah's daughter, is on holiday in Germany with her new lover, Steve, where she challenges him to do something that will test their relationship. Kate's nephews and niece, Tony, Jeff and Sam, spend their days concocting elaborate and dangerous dares. The common theme of pushing the boundaries of what is right holds the narratives together.

The strands of the three stories only really come together at the end, before which the motives of the players are nebulous. Regrettably, the writing and characterisation aren't compelling enough to hold the reader's attention while we wait for the point of the novel to be revealed. The reveal at the end isn't forceful enough to make the exercise worthwhile.

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