3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Philosophical and gripping. Easy to read, but plenty deep.,
This review is from: Going Out (Paperback)
I'll start this review talking about the author in general. In some quarters she seems to have developed a reputation as a 'chick lit' author, possibly because she is a woman (surprisingly enough, female is not a genre) and the covers of her previous books have all been a bit on the bright side.
Well, it's not true and it never has been: her first three books were kick-ass detective stories and the last one (Bright Young Things) was, briefly, a thought experiment type of novel examining the relationships between people to the world - at least I think it was, I go into this in more depth in my review of Bright Young Things (so you can that out next, if you want).
So, not chick lit. Scarlett was also a contributor to the New Puritan Anthology. You may have ideas about what this means - is the book all surface and plain storytelling; a little dour and dull? No, it isn't.
Two things about the New Puritans: firstly, it's probably best not to assume too much about the contributors unless you've actually read the anthology (avoid labels, even if authors appear to be sticking them on themselves); secondly, the project was a one-off, an experiment - not a way of life (Toby Litt's Deadkidsongs breaks pretty much every rule in the manifesto - yet both that book and his story in the anthology are very good).
Probably the best way to get an idea of Scarlett's writing style (and mindset) is to search out her excellent (if slightly crazed) website - that's how I got into her writing in the first place.
Anyway enough about what the book isn't, here's what it is. Very good, for a start, though possibly not to everyone's taste.
The two main characters have opposing dilemmas: one can't go out (he's allergic to the sun) the other doesn't want to (she's scared of the world).
It's about them and their friends: everyone's young; everyone's trying to make sense of their lives; it's routed firmly in contemporary Britain and the story rattles along (I read the book in one sitting and was a bit disappointed that there wasn't more).
This could easily be the recipe for a shallow soapy book and some people might find it hard to get past all the contemporary references (I think these people should lighten up, books don't have to be forever).
However, the main thing is the philosophical nature of the book. Like in her previous book, Scarlett is using an extreme situation - almost, but not quite, a fantasy situation - to ask questions about our lives and how we experience the world. It's not dull and academic - it's all done with story and example - but the book is teeming with ideas (from complex numbers to our perception of risk) and it is this that makes it particularly satisfying. In this respect, the comparisons with Douglas Coupland are appropriate - however, the cultural background is completely different (England vs. America/Canada).
I suppose this could be a negative point for some readers though - and characters do tend to go into monologues a bit (didn't bother me in the slightest though).
There is also much joy to be had in the prose. At first, it seems functional and subservient to the story but there are many moments of quiet and well observed poetry - phrases to roll around the brain.
After all this praise, why not five stars?
Partly because I'd have liked it to be longer and wrap up the stories of the characters some more (very personal thing, this). Mainly, though, five stars implies a perfect book - and I don't want to get flip about that kind of thing. Four stars should be the best you can expect, in general, and I don't think you can predict a five-star experience. Having said that though, this book could easily be a five star experience for you.