My review of ‘The Flower Seller’ for #RBRT
For fans of David Sedaris, Tina Fey and Caitlin Moran comes the new book from Jenny Lawson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Let’s Pretend This Never Happened…
In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.
As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.
Jenny’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. Furiously Happy is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. And who doesn’t need a bit more of that?
I’m a huge fan of Jenny Lawson’s blog ‘The Bloggess’ which has had me laughing and crying on many occasions. I also adored her first book ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’, so I was so excited to read her second book.
Jenny is breathtakingly and beautifully honest about her mental health issues. She has crippling depression and anxiety, and , on top of this, also has to contend with problems with her physical health. As someone with OCD and as the mother of a (now adult) son with generalised anxiety disorder and OCD, I’ve read a lot of books about these issues, but never have I read an author as inspiring, as honest and open and as terribly, horribly funny as Jenny Lawson.
This book focuses more on mental illness than the first book, but is no less hilarious for that. Jenny writes about her struggles with disarming honesty, the effects it has had on her life, her career and her family. She clearly adores her family, but they don’t escape her unusual sense of humour. The arguments she has with husband Victor are a highlight of the book, as Jenny often goes off on a tangent that Victor finds increasingly difficult and frustrating to follow. But her love for him and his for her is touchingly shown when she tells him his life would be easier without her.
“It might be easier,” he replies. “But it wouldn’t be better.”
A brief run through of some of the chapter titles tells you most of what you need to know about this book:
‘George Washington’s Dildo’
‘LOOK AT THIS GIRAFFE’
‘Death by Swans Is Not as Glamorous as You’d Expect’
are a few of my particular favourites.
While the book is very, very funny, it’s also very, very emotional to read, at least it was for me. Jenny’s mental health issues mean that she often can’t function, that she hides in hotel rooms when she’s supposed to be promoting her work, that she often feels like a failure because she can’t cope with the things other mothers seem to excel at, like PTA meetings. But she’s determined that when she feels fine, that when she can face life, that she will really live, that she will be ‘furiously happy’. She understands that there’s a flip side to the extreme emotions that depression brings – that she has the ability to also experience extreme joy, and she’s determined that she will have a storeroom of memories for those dark times, filled with moments
‘of tightrope walking, snorkelling in long-forgotten caves, and running barefoot through cemeteries with a red ball gown trailing behind me.’
As she says, it’s not just about saving her life, it’s about making her life.
Despite great breakthroughs in recent years, mental illness still carries a stigma. But sufferers are no more to blame for their illness than people with cancer, or MS or anything. Jenny’s writing humanises mental illness. She isn’t ashamed, and neither should anyone else be. The epilogue, ‘Deep in the Trenches’ made me cry. It’s the most touching, insightful, compassionate and beautiful piece of writing I’ve ever read about living with mental illness, or helping someone you love to live and to live fully.
And I’ll always be grateful for the very clever, but characteristically quirky, ‘spoons’ analogy. I read this part of the book at exactly the right time, and it really helped with a situation where someone I love really didn’t have enough spoons. Read it – you’ll get it, and it might help you too.
I love this book, and if I could give it more stars I would. Yes, it’s incredibly funny, but it also says something extremely important. If you have mental health issues, or care for someone who does, please, please read this.
Authors love reviews! Some great advice on writing reviews from Rosie Amber.
Fabulous review of Nicolas Winding Refn’s controversial new film ‘The Neon Demon’
Have your cake, eat it, and then throw up because you look like a pig.
Modelling is truly the Refn film’s compeer; people are ornamental, violence is sex and vapidity is substantive. The film’s ethereal L.A., guttural and glittering, finds itself somewhere in-between the arterial urbanism of Drive and the neon-drenched dank and fatalism of Only God Forgives: a lurid wonderland of rapacious wolves and fresh golden sheep. Its narrative velocity is just as medial. The story moves forward with a more accessible pace and purchase than OGF, but waits far longer to blow its gruesome load than Drive. The narrative momentum pays off, however, giving Refn’s autonomic aesthetics more credence, and his characters more to show us, to give us and present us with, and so more to be invested and involved in. It also helps that the characters are actually characters this time around, rather…
View original post 635 more words
A very quick tip here for writers struggling with dialogue.
One of the issues that I find in a lot of the manuscripts I edit is that the dialogue can seem forced and contrived. Realistic, believable and authentic dialogue is a must for a good novel, and authors need to make sure they get it right. But many new writers think they have to write ‘properly’ and they think this means eschewing contractions.
Generally, if you want to make your dialogue flow and for readers to believe in it, then you need to use contractions (there are exceptions to this, in particular types of fiction). Think about it. How many people do you know (however posh they are and however ‘properly’ they speak) who say things like this:
‘Please do not walk on the grass.’
The answer is no one. No one ever (except perhaps the queen and probably not even her) speaks like that. It sounds horrible.
- ‘Don’t’ not ‘do not’
- ‘They’ve’ not ‘they have’
- ‘Should’ve’ not ‘should have’ (and definitely NOT should of)
- ‘I’ll’ not ‘I will’
- ‘Can’t’ not ‘cannot’
You get the point.
There are three things you can do to improve your dialogue:
- Listen – actually listen to people talking. This has the advantage of also often being very entertaining.
- Read – when you’re reading, make a note of dialogue that really works, and why it works
- Speak – read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound right?
Contrived, formal, awkward dialogue is, I’m afraid, the sign of a writer still learning their craft. Get it right, and your writing will be smooth and professional and your dialogue a pleasure to read.
I reviewed ‘The Flower Seller’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.
Jessie Martin believes that when it comes to love there are three types of people: the skimmers, the bottom dwellers and the ones who dive for pearls. Jessie is a pearl diver. She had thought her husband William was a pearl diver too. But when William leaves her for a much younger woman, it’s not just Jessie’s heart that is broken, her ability to trust is shattered too. All Jessie wanted was a love she could believe in. Was that so much to ask? Loyalty it seems has gone out of fashion.
Refusing to retire from the battlefield of life, Jessie resolves to put her heartache behind her. She doesn’t want to be that woman who was too scared to love again. There has to be another pearl diver out there; all she has to do is find him.
Urged on by her sassy best friend, Anne and her daughter Hannah, Jessie makes three New Year’s resolutions: get a divorce, get a promotion, get a life. Enthusiastically embracing her new start, Jessie sets about making all her resolutions come true.
When fate brings handsome flower seller Owen Phillips into her life, will Jessie have the courage of her convictions? Can she take her heart in her hands and give it away again? Hope springs eternal they say but a bruised heart needs to time to heal. Will Owen have the patience to understand? Will Jessie be brave enough to take that leap of faith?
By the time summer holds her firmly in it’s warm embrace, Jessie’s monochrome world of heartache has been transformed into one full of colour, romance and love.
Jessie can hardly believe her luck. Can Owen really be the one?
All things seem possible and even husband William’s attempts to bully Jessie into a less than fair divorce settlement don’t have the power to upset her as they once might have. Supported by Owen, Jessie stands her ground. Putting William’s deceit and betrayal firmly in the rear view mirror of her life, Jessie is full of hope for the future. Perhaps loyalty and true love haven’t gone out of fashion after all.
When autumn’s burnished hues colour the world around her, Jessie looks forward to cosy nights by log fires with her handsome flower seller. But is Owen really the pearl diver Jessie had hoped for? Or is Jessie’s fragile trust about to be shattered all over again?
The Flower Seller is an engaging and page-turning read full of love, deceit, betrayal and hope.
This romantic tale follows Jessie from the depths of winter, to the excitement of spring through a hot and passionate summer to the turmoil and drama of a stormy autumn.
As a second winter approaches and her world is once more turned upside down, will Jessie ever find a love she can believe in with a man she can trust?
First of all, the blurb for this book is far too long. It makes me want to get out my red pen and start furiously cutting away. Hopefully it won’t put people off, because this is a lovely book.
Jessie is in her early forties, and is struggling to come to terms with her husband’s betrayal. She meets a younger man, but she isn’t sure if she can trust him either. The novel is told mostly from Jessie’s point of view, sometimes moving into her husband William’s viewpoint, and sometimes into the point of view of Owen, her younger lover.
I didn’t mind the point of view switches. It did add a new dimension when we saw things from William’s side. The switches are kept separate from each other, apart from on one occasion when the switch is a bit sudden and quite jarring.
Jessie is a great lead character, for the most part. At first I was one hundred per cent on her side. I have to say though, that as the book progressed, I felt less sympathy, and by the end, I was a bit irritated by her.
Having said that, it is nice to have a lead character who is a woman of a certain age. And a successful woman at that. The author does a great job of adding depth to Jessie; she’s a three-dimensional character with faults and with fears. And William and Owen are very real too.
My issue with Jessie is an issue that I find I have a lot recently with older female characters. Those faults she has certainly aren’t physical ones. She’s beautiful – as both men in her life continuously remind her. At one point she’s described as lithe. Yet she works long hours, seems to continuously drink wine and eats lots of lovely dinners, and never exercises. As a woman in my forties, I can’t identify with that. It genuinely made it very hard for me to feel sympathy for Jessie, to believe in her. Where’s her cellulite? Where are the wrinkles? How does she drink as much as she seems to and still manage to get up and do a fourteen hour day?
The writing is competent, smooth and, on the whole, technically good. There are a few irritating dialogue tags that should have been got rid of during editing, and a few moments of dialogue that didn’t quite ring true (again, something that should have been picked up in the editing). But the style is lovely, easy to read, and the narrative carries you along. Ellie Holmes is a talented story teller, and this is an enjoyable read, one I’d definitely recommend. I just wish I’d felt more in tune with Jessie, that I’d liked her more than I did.
Excellent advice on getting the most out of hashtags on Twitter.
I’m trying very hard to complete the David Bowie reading challenge that I discovered on the fabulous Scatterbooker blog. Many of the books on the list are classics that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ is one of those.
Described by various reviewers as hellish and obscene, Last Exit to Brooklyn tells the stories of New Yorkers who at every turn confront the worst excesses in human nature. Yet there are moments of exquisite tenderness in these troubled lives. Georgette, the transvestite who falls in love with a callous hoodlum; Tralala, the conniving prostitute who plumbs the depths of sexual degradation; and Harry, the strike leader who hides his true desires behind a boorish masculinity, are unforgettable creations. Last Exit to Brooklyn was banned by British courts in 1967, a decision that was reversed the following year with the help of a number of writers and critics including Anthony Burgess and Frank Kermode.
This is an incredibly difficult book to read. The writing style in itself is very difficult to get to grips with. No speech marks, no commas, no apostrophes. But once you get used to that, there is a great depth and a great skill to Selby’s writing. It becomes a bit of a rollercoaster, or perhaps a car crash. It’s gruesome and nasty and unsettling in turns, but the narrative is written in such a way that it’s impossible to look away.
The narrative doesn’t follow the conventions of a novel. There’s no one story arc but rather a series of narratives concerning different characters, some connected, all set in the streets of Brooklyn in the 1950s. The book was released in 1964, and it shows. The depictions of racism, misogyny and homophobia and the language used are certainly shocking, at least to this modern reader. But this is the epitome of gritty realism. Unfortunately, you can well imagine these events happening, these attitudes being real.
It’s hard to like the characters, any of them. But you do feel a certain amount of sympathy; they’re trapped in their grim lives, lives that are diminished through violence and hate. You can see how these characters become who they are, how they are capable of what they do.
There are some truly horrifying moments in this book; I have to admit that there are some things I wish I hadn’t read. But am I glad I read it? Definitely. Selby has achieved something rare here. Would I recommend it? I’m not sure. You’ll need a strong stomach. There are no happy endings, no escapism, absolutely no joy.