Sunday, 19 February 2012
Book Review: "A Tiny Bit Marvellous" By Dawn French
"This first novel by Dawn French is told through the eyes of a mother and her two teenage children. There's seventeen-year-old Dora, a stroppy teenager who's just come out of her first relationship (it lasted a whole six weeks) and who's longing to escape to university; her long-suffering mother, Mo, a child psychiatrist who's baffled by the antagonist behaviour of her children; and sixteen-year-old Peter, who prefers to be known as Oscar due to his obsession with Oscar Wilde. Written in diary format, with each chapter narrated by a different voice, this is a hilarious, sharp and utterly compelling novel about the ups and down of family, sibling rivalry and growing up. With each chapter told from the point of view of one character, Dawn French's witty and engaging novel offers us an honest and insightful account into the relationships between children and parents."
Oh my actual God, this is like, so the worst book I have ever read? and the publishers should, like, totally of been done for false advertising for that title? Cos it's like, not a tiny bit marvellous. It's like, total wonk? And stuff?
If reading that paragraph set your teeth on edge then I recommend you steer well clear of Dawn French's debut novel. It's a tepid journey through a series of dull events narrated by one-dimensional characters and finished with a "twist" which is about as subtle as being hit in the face with a sledgehammer.
The book is told in a series of head-hopping diary entries: Boring Mum Mo, irritating teen Dora and superfluous dandy Peter/Oscar. As each chapter is told from a different point of view none of the characters have time to develop, and they start and end the book as shallow stereotypes, lacking any form of complexity or growth.
The banal personalities of the characters are rendered even more dull by their bland stories. No doubt Dawn French thought she was tapping into the "Everyman" factor with her characters: depicting events and scenes to which we can all relate. The result is hackneyed, predictable, boring, and lacking insight. Allow me to illustrate:
Dora is an irritating 17-year-old who speaks and acts like a 13 year old (like, so totally, like wak?). She's finishing her A Levels and she thinks the world hates her. Yawn. She "learns" that people aren't what they seem, and that her family loves her after all. Yawn.
Mo is approaching her 50th birthday and is worried about growing old. She is a child psychologist without a clue about her own children. Yawn. A younger man shows interest in her and she wonders whether or not to go off with him. Yawn. She "learns" that people aren't what they seem, and you have to be happy with what you've got.
Peter/Oscar has the beginnings of being a promising character. He is 16 and is fixated with Oscar Wilde. But the fixation extends only to being gay, and dressing and speaking like a dandy. He doesn't actually seem to have read any of Wilde's works, or to link in to any of Wilde's main themes. He "learns" that people aren't what they seem, and true love can be hiding just under one's nose. His inclusion seemed to function as a lazy attempt to nudge the book towards the genre of "literary fiction." As Dora would say: "Yeah, like totally not. You wonk."
The work is boring: the theme of a dysfunctional family is well-worn and Dawn French offers no fresh insight with her obvious characters, limp themes and cliched prose.
I have often ventured the opinion that Dawn French is one of the least funny people to have appeared on television in the last twenty years, and this novel did nothing to raise my opinion of her. The humour in the book falls flat, relying as it does on stereotypes and "comic" speech patterns which just end up being irritating.
If you don't believe me, I will furnish you with one further example. This is how subtle, complex and highbrow the humour in the book gets: The dog is called Poo.
If this book had been written by anyone other than a "celebrity" it would never have seen the light of day. Amazon and Goodreads allow you to give 1* as the lowest possible rating, but I feel this would be too generous as there is nothing about the novel that makes it worth that star.
My rating is: 0/5