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Novel set in Birmingham (UK) and Brussels

10th August 2019

Novel set in Birmingham (UK) and BrusselsThe Mistress by E S Purnell, novel set in Birmingham and Brussels.

The opening chapters portray a woman who, it feels, is a precursor to Eleanor Oliphant, who is the protagonist of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Oddball, quirky and yet quite endearing (at times and at times not!)

Muriel is a professional translator and wordsmith, she is in her mid 30s and she is idiosyncratic and abrupt. Her observations are largely unfiltered and she often has a unique take on the goings-on around her.

She is single but falls for Franz, who is a German pilot and who, of course, comes with baggage. Yes, in the background is his older wife whose lifelong quest is to reverse the ageing process. And yet, Muriel is determined to ensure he is the man of her dreams.

Muriel’s work gets a good look-in and this book has appeal for those who are interested in language, and especially German. The author is adept at nuanced observation and wordplay.  The writing style is excellent and in general keeps the story afloat. At well over 500 pages long the novel needs more editing, especially towards the end as the at times dense narrative struggles to focus on the storyline and genre (not that genre should dictate); it has a tendency to meander without clear purpose. The opening is set early 2000s and the book goes on to move around in time… maybe the breadth of the time periods is a little too exhaustive. I also feel the cover doesn’t – to my mind – reflect the content.

It will be interesting to see where the author goes next. There is a lot of promise in this novel and the author is a gifted writer.

The sense of place is not overly strong. I assumed at first (being British) that the Birmingham was meant to be the city in the UK but then when ambient temperatures were quoted in Fahrenheit (Celsius is the overriding unit across Europe), I wavered (and briefly kept my eyes really peeled and checked out Birmingham Alabama, just in case). But no, it is roundly set in Europe.

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