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Entertaining in parts, but overall a dip in form
on 21 March 2012
From the same author I really enjoyed 'A short history of tractors in Ukrainian' and 'Two Caravans', both of which I found original and witty, especially her first novel, the stories of which revolved around immigrants from Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Her third novel 'We are all made of glue' was still good but didn't quite reach the heights of the first two.
'Various pets alive and dead' is Marina Lewycka's fourth novel, and although by no means bad, it didn't hit the spot in quite the same way as her first two novels. The story involves Doro and Marcus, who lived in a neo-Marxist style commune in the 1960's and now find themselves in the modern world with three grown up children; Clara, a primary school teacher, Serge, a mathematician and investment banker, and Oolie-Anna who has Down's Syndrome. Much of the humour juxtaposes the values and morals of the 1960's generation against that of the moderm world, and also the traditional values of the northern community in Doncaster with that of the City of London.
Although the book does have its humourous moments, the story cuts around between the characters, and back and forward from the 1960's to the present day, many of the characters are caricatures (as to be expected in this type of novel). Picking the City of London wide-boy culture as a target for satire is really a rather easy one, and again although some of this was amusing, it seemed rather obvious in places. I found some of the stories and scenes from the 60's commune rather uninteresting, and the story lines didn't really go very far. The amoral Maroushka, the Ukranian ex-cleaner and maths-whizz, seemed contrived beyond belief (I guess there had to be a Ukranian in there somewhere!), and some of the threads didn't seem to resolve themselves, eg. did Serge liberate his funds or not? Who started the fire? Also, I wasn't sure the humour around Oolie-Anna and her constant references to shagging was in particularly good taste either. I guess the reader will have to decide that for themselves.
The end result was something of a hotchpotch for me. I had high hopes for the book, and although I didn't actively dislike it, found it weak compared to Marina Lewycka's previous novels.