Anyone who’s been keeping up with my Sunday Rundowns of late will know that I’ve been making painfully slow progress with Shakespeare: The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson. So, when I was approached by Linh Le James to read her novel #Toots for a review, I decided it would be a good excuse for a break from my current read. And, thankfully, it was a quick read that proved to me it’s not that I’m in a slump that Byrson is taking so long. It’s just the book itself. So, I’m now wondering, still being only about halfway through at 2.5 weeks, whether it’s worth carrying on with it. I don’t want to give up considering how much time I’ve put into it but it feels like this uphill struggle is never going to end. I mean, there’s only so much pleasure you can take reading the history of a man who we know next to nothing about. It’s pretty much all speculation. I’ll be honest, I could have been asked to review any book right now and I’d probably had agreed just to give me the excuse to put Bryson down again. Maybe that explains why I got through #Toots in only 3 days? Or maybe it was just the best book I’ve ever read?
According to the opening of Linh le James’ novel, the term ‘toots’ refers to a person’s best friends or sisters. Her novel is concerned with four sisters: Jess, Louisa, Carla, and Emily. Emily is the youngest and finds herself juggling time between work, university, and dating. Carla has just been promoted in her marketing job but finds herself stuck in a rut with her long-time boyfriend, Ben. Louisa has dreams of rich and handsome man who can take her away from her life as a beautician. Finally, Jess is a working mother of two daughters and worries that her marriage is struggling. After a cliffhanger opening, the novel follows each of the sisters as their lives are all thrown into turmoil. Thankfully, they are able to turn to each other to help them.
This is a novel all about young women having fun: a fact that is highlighted by the fact that each chapter opens with a cocktail recipe. I’d have to say this is the kind of romance literature that has come out in the wake of Sex and the City. We have four women who are uninhibited in their actions and deeds in an attempt to ride the feminist wave. Yet, at the same time, none of the women have many positive aspects to them. I get that the author is trying to present a non-stereotypical view of women but something about it feels disingenuous. As if she’s pushing it a bit too far to make a point that doesn’t actually come through.
I do have to say that each of the women have a distinctive voice and, when the point of view switches, it is easy to keep up. My only issue is the chapters that are taken from the point of view of an omnscient narrator. Those chapters feel jarring and don’t seem to add anything to the narrative. I’m not a fan of first-person narration for the most part but, here at least, it seemed to make sense. The need to switch third-person. It stuck out for all the wrong reasons. But, thankfully, it didn’t happen very often.
In terms of the story, #Toots is a quick and easy read. It only took a matter of hours to get all the way through. Normally, I’d say that was a good thing but I think in this instance is showcases a lack of depth. It is an incredibly simple story. Not very much happens and the narrative rushes along at breakneck speed that everything besides the characters is a blur. There is very little time to get to know everyone and each of the characters feels a bit like a sitcom cliché now. We have the 20-something with the DJ ex who takes to Tinder to find love. Then we have her newly single sister who jumps into bed with her very young assistant. The desperate and greedy sister who tricks a nice, rich guy into a relationship. And, finally, the sad sack mother who imagines her husband is sleeping with his female colleague based on no proof. There is no real attempt to modify anything. It all feels very familiar and by-the-book.
That’s the real reason this was such a simple read. It’s all very familiar and doesn’t require anything from its reader. The dialogue doesn’t seem like the language of real 20-40 year old British women and I think I’m okay to say that as a 31-year-old British woman. Listening to these women is at times excruciating. It’s supposed to be a funny sitcom style book but very little, if any, of the humour really lands. #Toots is a novel that think it’s something other than it is. It uses sex, alcohol, and bad language to make it seem like it’s more outrageous than it really is. Kind of like how Sandy dresses up in leather at the end of Grease. We’re supposed to believe she’s super sexy now but, really, she’s just the same girl she always was just with a slightly racier aesthetic. It’s all set dressing. #Toots isn’t a bad read but it isn’t a great read either. It didn’t get me excited to read the next in the series.