I have just finished reading another of the six books that launched the Macmillan New Writing imprint in April. The fifth on my list was Selfish Jean by Cate Sweeney, and it turned out to be an absolute treat.
I must admit that I wasn't keen on the cover when I first picked this up - I'm not sure what the twirly thing represents - and I was expecting a kind of light "chick lit" book. I only had to read a few pages, however, and that fear disappeared. I read this in one sitting, which is very rare for me, as the writing had me by the neck and wouldn't let me go.
I think the novel is a master class in how an author needs to find an original "voice" and keep it going until the end. There are two distinctive story lines, broken up into separate sections, and each has its own style. There was a kind of sweet and sour feeling to this novel and it really worked.
Jean is fumbling through a dull relationship, becoming obsessed with the need to adopt a child, and ends up becoming attracted to the mysterious social worker assigned to their case. Her story is touching and funny, and I felt like I knew this woman by the end. The parallel story features Levi, a young boy trying to cope in an unhappy home with an unstable mother. I was gripped by this narrative, the "voice" of which is stunning. I was there with this child, feeling every bit of the angst.
It was also such a delight to read a book where all of the text was crucial to the story, where I didn't feel the urge to skip ahead to escape unnecessary detail. The humour and tragedy works well together, and the writing was fresh and accessible. The way things are tied up at the end was intelligent and inspired.
This is a short novel, only 218 pages, and I didn't want it to come to an end.