I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

A Shameless Review


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.

9 comments:

Bill Peschel said...

If it helps, the twirly thing on the cover looks like a stylized strand of DNA.

Shameless said...

Ahhhhh! Thanks, Bill. I was never very good in my science classes at school. Now the cover makes sense, but I still don't like it. What do other people think of the cover?

Carla said...

Agreed, the twirly thing is a double helix so presumably represents genes and by extension connects with the need for a child. The title, Selfish Jean looks like a pun on Richard Dawkins' seminal book on evolutionary theory The Selfish Gene. I don't get the significance of the bottle on the cover though - how does that relate to the story?

Shameless said...

This all makes sense ... and the main character likes the odd glass! Still, I really think a more artistic, classy cover would suit this novel.

Matt Curran said...

Hi Shameless

Chatted with Conor Corderoy of Dark Rain-fame at the weekend, and he couldn't praise Cate's book high enough. Looks like another purchase is on the horizon...

Matt

Shameless said...

Thanks for your message Matt,
Dark Rain is the next book on my list ... after Saturday by Ian McEwan. Then I will have a wee break from MNW titles, until your book comes out of course!

cate sweeney said...

Hi
Thanks so much this review came up on my occassional narcisitic searches on myself on the web. I'm so chuffed. Thanks for reading and enjoying.
Yeah I agree, not sure if the chick lit cover did me any favours or gave me a wider readership,who knows? But a bottle of Rioja and mulling over the meaning of life is very me!
Cheers!
Cate

Shameless said...

Hi Cate,
Googling oneself is all the rage now, and it's become important for knowing where we stand in life. There is nothing wrong with it. I'm really looking forward to your next book!

cate sweeney said...

Hi Shameless thanks for message on my blog. I'm never sure if you're supposed to reply to other bloggers your own page or their page so I'll do both!
Thanking you again as I love it when men like my book I'm almost as surprised as they are, and one of the main characters in my next book is a man, so we shall see!
Oh have I just outed you as a man?
And I spelt narcissitic wrong, but I blame the lack of editing!