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Review: Can't Live Without by Joanne Phillips
on 31 January 2013
A cracking opening had me instantly engaged, and Stella is a character easy to love, despite her flaws. Her first person, present tense narrative is energetic and opinionated, bordering on bitchy in a way that is very amusing. There was clear voice from the very first line, and it didn't take long to think of Stella as an old friend, with a measure of definite fondness as she screwed up time and time again.
But then the second chapter jumps to a third person, past tense narrative, following Stella's teenage daughter, who later writes a first person section in her diary, and then there's Paul, Stella's boss and love interest, who also gets a narrative perspective...
I'm not keen on books that swap styles as they swap viewpoints. You have to give your characters a unique viewpoint, yes, but it's my personal opinion that the viewpoints should at least be consistent in terms of tense and perspective. I find it jarring transitioning between the different styles.
That said, I did love Lipsy's diary entries. The stroppy teenager with unrealistic ideas about life was an entertaining view to have, and I preferred it enormously to the third person perspective sections that followed her. It was a nice way of revealing her character development as well, showing her change in attitude across the span of the novel.
And there was tonnes of character development. This wasn't the soggy sort of chick lit that makes me abhor the genre. The characters were realistic, flawed, with definite growth. Some of the more background characters were a little two dimensional (Loretta the office bitch, Billy, Stella's brother) but that's fairly standard for any book, and the major players more than made up for it.
In fact, I doubt I'd have even particularly noticed the background characters if they'd stayed very much in the background, but my second issue with Can't Live Without was the story.
It wasn't the issue that a lot of books I've read lately have: that there is no story. In fact, it was totally the opposite. There was too much. For a relatively short book, it did try to pack in a lot of stuff - teenage rebellion, family in prison, absent fathers, the issues of consumerism, as well as the romance side of things. Any one of these things could have made a good novel, and a couple could have made a great one. I just felt in the rush to pack all these things in, none were really explored in enough detail, and character revelations and epiphanies came thick and fast and usually quite cheesy. Characters changed completely in a page length. Relationships were forged and broken in a chapter. Everything (with the exception of one revelation about Stella's father) made sense, the character changes were logical and understandable, but nothing really had the emotional impact it could have carried.
It's hard to say all this without sounding like I didn't enjoy the book. I did, and I certainly don't feel like it was a waste of the two afternoons it took to read it. And I guess this comes back to my key thing about Self Publishing. I have no expectations. Anything better than absolute tripe is a bonus, and Can't Live Without is a long way above absolute tripe.
Also, it's cheap.
Admittedly, I got this free when Joanne ran a promotion, but I wouldn't have felt too bad about spending £1.91 on it. You can get Self Published books for 79p a lot of the time, so it's not a venture that's going to leave you out of pocket. Can't Live Without isn't as polished or cohesive as some of its published counterparts (but then, it's also a damn sight better than some of its published counterparts - being traditionally published is not always a hallmark of quality) but for the price you're paying it's an enjoyable, light read.
And I definitely think Joanne Phillips is an author to keep an eye on.