Monday, 7 March 2016

My Review of "Not Working" by Lisa Owens

Not Working
I like the cover of this novel- it's very stylistic and attractive and it's the main reason I wanted to review it! The critics reviews printed on the cover are also full of praise. The blurb describes Owens' debut as the next "Bridget Jones"- a mix of "Sex and the City" and "I Don't Know How She Does It."

This is a light, entertaining and quirky novel. It is about twenty-something Claire who leaves her job in order to do a bit of soul searching and have some time to think about what she should really do with her life. She spends the next few months largely procrastinating, easily distracted by anything on the internet and social media, and quickly finding it impossible to achieve much in a day. She lives with Luke, her boyfriend of seven years who is a surgeon - completely career focused, dedicated and secure within his choice for a respectable, worthy and stable career.

The novel is written in short, breezy segments with headings like "Tube", "Phone", "Wake" and vary in length from the odd sentence, one off paragraph or a longer extract. This reflects the world of today; we absorb so much information about people through the 160 characters of their Twitter post or Facebook status. We communicate our thoughts and activities with concise efficiency and constantly flick from one opened window to another on our laptops, iPads and phones. It's a really effective technique and shows how much can be revealed about a character from such well crafted snippets. Claire's personality quickly becomes alive and vivid. We engage her with straight away due to rapid fire delivery of her comments and observations. Owens' use of these "soundbites" is clever as it allows her to disclose a lot more information than a traditional narrative and also shows a more interesting range of detail as she can juggle a range of locations and times over which to sprinkle nuggets of Claire's thoughts. It is an informal, contemporary voice and I found I was reading quickly, flying through the pages - totally unaware of how much I had got through as the short pieces help spur you effortlessly further into the novel.

The writing is sharp and humorous. It feels very authentic. Many readers will relate to Claire's comments like "I take the bus to the gym that I can't really afford," and the more humiliating situation of being placed on "the children's table" despite the fact that all these guests are over 25 years old. Claire uses cliches like "exploring my options" when people enquire about her job hunting, but again, this is authentic and indeed this need for some time out is a little bit of a cliche in itself. Owens proves that she is "a writer on whom nothing is lost" as one reviewer commented, by her more subtle observations and use of language. For example, later in the novel Claire explains to her boyfriend that in terms of her job search she is "mentally no clearer but still technically closer". These hilarious statements truly sum up Claire's character. She becomes obsessed with mini projects that allow her to produce "dossiers pulled together from an afternoon's research". They go shopping with the decision to "expand our culinary horizons and cook more at home" but end up with a takeaway. She is a little crazy, a little bit chaotic, a little bit naive, a little bit cringe worthy and a little bit frustrating! All in all she is likeable despite her directionless mooch through life. She often misreads situations and can't really see the truth in her own. She's insecure and in conflict with the different pressures on young women like marriage, career, babies and the unattainable desire to "have it all". She has enough spirit for you to find the time and heart to relate to her and is haphazard and self deluded enough for you not to pity her. Claire is also an unreliable narrator which is effective in exposing more of her vulnerability and induces more comic moments, even if the laugh is sometimes at her expense.

The second half of the novel has a more serious edge to it and explores her relationship with her mother in more depth, as well as her relationship with Luke. Claire does seem to become more depressed and at times it's a little difficult to fully sympathise as some of her problems are her own making. However, I'm not sure she's totally to blame. I think Owens might actually be making a point about the pressure of modern society. Young people have been lead to believe they can "have it all" and are constantly bombarded with information, they can search and access anything at all in a matter of minutes and they are constantly in virtual communication with notifications constantly pinging like rapid gun fire. It is a pressurised world. And I think every one of us has experienced a moment in time when we've questioned our choice of career and whether it is what we really want. Answering that question is hugely difficult and sometimes takes us the best part of twenty years to fathom! I think many readers of Claire's age and generation will relate massively to this coming of age novel for the twenty-somethings.

The Guardian wrote that this was a "deadpan comic debut for the procrastination generation" and Glamour also heralded it as' "voice-of-a-generation observations". These reviews sum up the book well. I'm not sure I'm quite the right target audience for this book but think ten years ago I would have related to Claire more. Owens' is a writer with spark and this is a light read which you will fly through amidst smiles and knowing shakes of your head!

Thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair review.

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