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Novel set in New York (Lucy in the sky…..)…

21st October 2013

An Englishwoman in New York by Anne-Marie Casey, novel set in New York and (briefly) London

Let’s start with the basics, the cover. Delightful, well composed, nice and tasteful, a woman in a green cocktail dress, with alternating stripes of Sap Green and Hooker’s Green (yes, the latter is for real, just check the Daler Rowney Colour Chart). With the iconic background, it shouts New York and sophistication.

1848548338.01.ZTZZZZZZCovers, as I have mentioned before (ad nauseam probably), are pivotal to the experience of the reader, they are an indicator of content and they heighten expectation. They are a reader’s first port of call. They are IMPORTANT!

This cover has a 1950s feel, the dress combined with the hairstyle is very Grace Kelly and the font is of that era. However, all of these factors misrepresent the very contemporary content and setting of the book (although the parenting skills of Mad Men’s Betty Draper do get a brief mention). This is not a novel of the 1950s, it is very firmly a novel of the 21st century. We know this because there is reference early on to the global collapse in the financial markets, and the kids play Transformers (and Post-its, referred to in the text, first came to market in 1981 – you see I do my homework!). It is not 1950s; thus we award Klaxon number 1.

The title might then lead the reader to believe that the book is essentially about, and from the perspective of, the Englishwoman of the title. Wrong! Klaxon number 2. The book is a meander through a social group, comprising only in part Lucy (the British woman of the title) and her husband Richard. Then add into the mix Christy, Julia and Robyn, and their various partners and, oh, there’s Lianne, and a further array of people, who randomly appear and then disappear. Take Lucy’s Aunt Eva, for example; she gets a brief mention on a couple of occasions but Eva, otherwise known as the badger (though I am left wondering what knowing this might add to the story), has no real role and is soon relegated to the annals of history. We briefly go on to meet Felicia and Ronald, Lorraine, and Paula, who “was George’s friend Louis’s Mum” (that explains it all, then), Dolores, Jake, Ryan, Schuyler (keep up!), Sarah, Michael, Quinn, Max, Lee… and more. This is a character cast of Tolstoyan magnitude. Individuals populate the prose who essentially feel irrelevant to the main thrust (not that the thrust ever really gets going). It’s rather hard to keep track of them all and frankly it induces senior moments of confusion (and, well, ennui). Though Kristian with a ‘K’ was memorable, because he is part of a treatise on Americanisms and punctuation errors.

There are some very astute observations about life in New York and there are snippets of ribald ripostes that are indeed ‘witty and sassy’ as the Sunday Express eulogises.

However, it is the ambling nature of the (actually quite good) writing which begged the question whether an editor and proofreader had actually had sight of the script. The dialogue was on occasion hazy about who was actually talking, which can be very challenging for the reader (who of course is frantically scrambling to remember all the people who appear). The ramble of words left me wondering quite what was going on at some points. For example, Lucy goes for an interview with Carmen Ross, a film producer, who points out her Oscar; only it’s not a figurine as one might expect, it’s a cat – but the reader has to do some mental gymnastics and go figure. It was at this point that I reread this particular passage a couple of times, thinking I was losing my marbles. I did indeed deduce what was going on, but I then began to lose the will to live, as the effort to work out what was going on was becoming singularly wearisome.

As the novel chugs towards the end of its path, the sentences became longer and more convoluted – there was one (I exaggerate not) which took up 1/4 of a single page. Why would a reader want to chase the verbs, pronouns, adjectives and adverbs around a mangle of words? Afterall, this is not a book written in German, a florid and complex language which requires you to deconstruct the Teutonic word order and follow the verb to the end of the (invariably long) sentence, interweaving several sub clauses into the main body of text – or, if you will, verbal sequence – thus drawing out the final denouement, and culminating with a fancy flourish of fireworks at its not-before-time conclusion (go figure again!). Life is too short.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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