Archive | March, 2012

Book Review: The Freudian Slip by Marion Von Adlerstein

22 Mar

Marion Von Adlerstein is the author of two other books on shopping and etiquette. The Freudian Slip is her first novel. It draws upon her own experience in a territory familiar to viewers of Mad Men – an advertising agency in the early sixties.

Set in Sydney, the novel revolves around three women. Desi is a television producer, Bea a copywriter and Stella, an ambitious ‘want to be’ from the wrong side of the tracks. Stella’s efforts to establish herself as part of the creative team at the agency generate most of the plot momentum.

While Stella has boundless energy and willpower, originality is not her strong point. Elevated from typist to copywriter, she soon learns that the package rules over the product – a message she apples to updating her look. Her outdated fifties beehive hairdo and princess-line dress make way for the a-la-mode look of the sixties. ‘Which persona to adopt? … an impersonation of Jeanne Moreau would be unsuitable. Jean Shrimpton? She no longer found that role model exciting. Then she remembered Audrey Hepburn…’

As with Mad Men, the role of women in the agency made me a little uncomfortable, but no doubt it was true to the time. Women are regularly described in terms of their vital statistics. Men are predatory and blatantly sexist. The agency’s male executives enjoy long boozy lunches while the women hold the fort. The social mores of the time regarding sex make interesting reading. A divorced woman is ‘spoilt goods’ and an affair with a married man is headline grabbing social death.

I enjoyed the period details of clothing and food which Von Adlerstein obviously remembers well. ‘Onion dip, devilled eggs and stuffed tomatoes were ready before the first guests were due. Swedish meatballs and cocktail frankfurts were standing by to be re-heated. A dozen bottles of sparkling Barossa Pearl sat among ice in a large tub…’ The brainstorming around the ad campaigns was also fun. The Freudian Slip of the title is a daring label for a new line of underwear.

The novel had a fast pace and enough intrigue to keep me turning the pages. The characters’ career and relationship dilemmas provide plenty of action. Von Adlerstein’s copywriting background shows up in the easy to read prose. This is a lively and entertaining book for those in the mood for a light-hearted romp.

This is my third review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

I’m sorry, Madam, but your novel is picaresque

12 Mar

A few months ago I received a rather long report from my publisher in regard to my next novel. I can now share with you that it will be called ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsais’. Probably. Titles are funny things, but that’s another story…

The length of the report was scary enough, but there was one section in particular that had me worried. ‘Your novel is picaresque.’

Picaresque! Oh no. I must have looked like that painting ‘The Scream’ by Munch. It can’t be. Please tell me it isn’t true. Eventually I calmed down enough to Google the word. Here is what I found.

‘of or relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero. Usually satirical.’

    I’d never thought of my heroine as being like that. Appealing, yes (hopefully), but rough and dishonest, no. Well, maybe just a little. I Googled more and found examples such as Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn described as picaresque. At least I was in good company.

As I looked into it further, I realised that a lot of chick-lit could actually be described as picaresque. Rather than following a traditional three act – beginning, middle and end structure, it relies on the charm of the    protagonist to carry the reader through their rough and tumble life. Bridget Jones’s Diary is a classic example.

It’s funny how once your mind is open to a word it starts appearing everywhere. Almost every novelist I read now seems to be described as picaresque.

Who have you heard described as picaresque lately?


If you would like to learn more about picaresque fiction (among other things) I am running a workshop called ‘Beyond Sex and Shopping: Writing fiction that sells’ this Saturday – the 17th of March in Byron Bay. Contact the Northern Rivers Writers Centre.

Book Review: ‘A Common Loss’ by Kirsten Tranter A Common Loss By: Kirsten Tranter

2 Mar

A Common Loss is Australian author, Kirsten Tranter’s second novel. Her first, The Legacy, was an assured, fresh retelling of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.

A Common Loss tells the story of five friends who meet at university and keep in touch over the next ten years. Following the death of one of their number, Dylan, the friends re-group for their annual visit to Las Vegas.

The story starts with the narrator, Elliot, remembering a car accident the five had together. The driver, Cameron, swerves to avoid a deer and they crash. Cameron has been drinking, so Dylan claims to be the driver. As the years go by, whenever Elliot remembers the crash, it is Dylan who he sees at the wheel. This trick of the memory becomes a motif for the story.

Elliot, a professor of literature, sees himself as a bit of an outsider in the group. With Dylan, who Elliot idealised, removed, tensions rise and relationships buckle under strain. Elliot discovers that not all of his friends viewed Dylan the same way he did. Dylan’s death sets events in train where each friend is forced to reveal long-hidden secrets.

The first part of the book seems a little slow, as Elliott comes to terms with Dylan’s death. Passages of introspection set the scene; ‘I felt strangely paralysed in that way that you feel in dreams sometimes, wanting to move and yet unable to take a step. Was this another symptom of grief, I wondered, catalogued and tagged somewhere?’

However, once the friends gather in Vegas it gets on quite a roll.  I enjoyed the observations on Vegas – how it all seemed like a stage set, changing rapidly from glitter and glitz to ‘desperation and emptiness’. ‘Backstage should be hidden with a curtain or a door from the audience, surely; it shouldn’t be so – well, just so easy to see all the crap and falling-apart stuff out the back,’ Elliot observes.

Essentially a psychological suspense novel, the narrative drive comes from waiting to see how the friendships will react to pressure. Tranter’s writing is clever and insightful. She digs deep into the undercurrents of friendship, guilt and shame. An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.