Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: Oh Dear Silvia

By Becky Gulc

Oh Dear Silvia is the second novel by British comedienne/actress, and now author, Dawn French. I had seen glowing praise for her debut novel, A Tiny Bit Marvellous, so I was delighted to receive this book for review to decide for myself whether Dawn is as good an author as she is a comedienne.

The story centres on Silvia, who is in a coma following a fall from a balcony, the setting is predominantly the hospital and the narrators are a series of visitors Silvia has over a period of time. It’s through these different visitors (and effectively their monologues during the visits) that we get a sense of Silvia’s life and relationships (at no point are we presented with Silvia’s viewpoint herself). In this sense, I thought the book offered something more interesting and different to the kind of narrative I would usually read. There is very little interaction between the different visitors and I found that added to the intrigue and suspense towards the end of the novel and this must have been tricky to get right.

The visitors Silvia receives range from her sister, daughter, ex-husband and friend through to her housekeeper and nurse. I’ll admit that I found it quite difficult to keep up with who everyone was, even in the later stages of the book I had to keep reminding myself who was who and what kind of relationship they had with Silvia largely because the chapters were quite short. Nevertheless every character had merit, and I liked the way each character and their visits throughout the novel helped you learn something new about Silvia, and them, and effectively shapes how you feel as a reader towards Silvia as the book evolves.

Silvia is someone who admittedly isn’t always likable; she isn’t liked by all of her visitors and I enjoyed these sub-plots to the story and felt there were plenty of surprises along the way. There were times when this novel is laugh-out-loud funny (Silvia’s sister literally tries everything to get her sister to come out of the coma including getting a stripper into the hospital room), yet there are times when the novel is also very dark and moving.

I enjoyed Dawn’s style of writing, as mentioned I thought the style was different and fresh, I never found the book predictable and was thankful for that. The only niggle I can identify is that one of the character’s sections is written in the style of their Jamaican accent (Winnie the nurse). It didn’t bother me so much (even if I had to read a few things twice) but I can see why it has grated on a few people in their own reviews of this book as it’s something you tend to get told to avoid in creative writing.

If you pick this up not expecting it to be a comedy, you won’t be disappointed. This book impressed me and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another book by Dawn French.

Thanks to Michael Joseph (Penguin UK) for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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2 comments:

Janel Gradowski said...

What an interesting way to tell a story. I hadn't heard of this book until seeing your review. I definitely want to read it now!

Connie said...

What a clever plot! I’m betting there are some really comical as well as serious thoughts coming from each of these visitors. Now, I have to definitely read this book to see if “Dear Silvia” comes out of her coma and if she has overheard remarks that her visitors wish she hadn’t! :-)

Thanks for sharing this great review.