A lot of people that I like seem to be writing books these days and it’s worrying. Worrying because I’m inevitably going to break my book buying ban. Also worrying because I can’t be sure that it will be worth it. Just because somebody is funny doesn’t mean that they can write a good book. Likewise, just because somebody can write a good film or TV script doesn’t mean it will translate into a novel. Not all writing requires the same skills and it’s not as easy as it seems. So, I normally buy these books and then put off reading them. I just don’t want to risk them being bad. This week I decided to be brave and finally tackle one of the books on my TBR. This one is written by the comedian, presenter and all-around nice person Mel Giedroyc.
Maybe it was the wrong time to read this book. After all, figures suggest that around 1 in 5 people in the UK are currently living in poverty. Stats like that don’t make it particularly easy to care about a family of rich people losing their mansion and having to face the harsh realities of life. I guess I understand the appeal of writing such a story. For one thing, you get to do a lot of fish out of water stuff with spoilt rich kids having to accept life without their expensive gadgets and fully stocked fridge. For another, it’s a really easy way to put your characters in challenging situations. Easy and unoriginal.
I guess I must have misunderstood the premise of this book because it really didn’t end up going in the direction I expected. Yes, at its most basic this is a book about a woman who finds her whole life turned upside down when her husband goes bankrupt. She and her family are forced out of their home with only a few pounds to their name. Sally Parker has never worked a day in her life and always relied on her husband Frank to make the decisions. Now, Sally is forced to step up and make the difficult choices to keep her family afloat. However, this story isn’t as simple as that. There are so many other random things that keep cropping up as well. For one thing, Frank also gets diagnosed with narcolepsy but this is never really explored in any detail. Then there’s a whole thing with the family’s doctor which isn’t explained enough. And a whole bunch of other things that I’m definitely forgetting.
This is one of those books that should never have been as long as it was. There’s just too much going on and the story suffers because of it. A lot of the things that transpire in the novel feel like half-ideas. We are constantly jumping between the different plots and it completely ruins the pace of the novel. I found it impossible to figure out timelines and geography because of how much we flitted between perspectives. The best way that I can think of to describe the feel of the book is to describe it as a TV script that’s been padded out a bit. Sometimes the perspective switches several times per chapter, which has the feel of a more visual medium where the editing is a bit frantic. For me, it just didn’t work.
It also didn’t help that the cast of characters didn’t feel very fleshed out. They were all the basic stereotypes that we’ve seen countless times before. Any development they go through is pretty shallow and unconvincing. Reading this sometimes felt like someone had taken a load of old tired literary tropes and shoved them together with no real understanding of how they all fit together. It’s not that it’s a terrible book but it is disappointing. Disappointing and slow. It takes such a long time for the story to get going and then it just races along to the end.
It doesn’t help that this seems to have been written as she would have spoken it. The lack of focus and the language give it a laid back and slightly confused feel. I couldn’t tell if this was well-written or if it was just trying to sound literary. Some of the metaphors could be good but others are just too forced. This is a book that is trying really hard to prove that it is top quality but it doesn’t fully track. I can’t help but think this would have been better had it just tried to do less. There was a potentially interesting and fun story here but it gets lost in a lot of nonsense. I really wanted to like this one but, ultimately, I was just bored. Had I not been listening to the audiobook as narrated by Giedroyc herself, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. The Best Thing isn’t exactly the worst thing ever. It just needed a better editor to get it into shape.
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