08 April 2007

Book Review: Odd One Out by Monica McInerney

New Year’s Reading Resolutions #9

Odd One Out In a family composed of a poet, an artist, a fashion designer, a jewellery designer, and a stage-and-screen lighting genius, Sylvie is the odd one out: she’s an office temp. At the moment, though, she’s back living in the family home, working for her mother and sisters, and being the general dogsbody at her sister Vanessa’s wedding. The crowning humiliation comes when her great-aunt Millicent asks Sylvie - just in time to be overheard by all present - to accept a job as her companion, so they can be ‘two old maids together’.

Fortunately big brother Sebastian arrives to rescue her, dragging her down to Melbourne for three weeks to flat-sit while he’s doing a tv show’s lights on location. While Sylvie’s in residence, he has his friend Leila deliver the first clue in a treasure-hunt like those he sent her on when she was a kid. The hunt leads her first to the local bookstore and cute assistant Max, and eventually to an ill-fated meeting with her estranged father ... via an equally ill-fated dinner party at which Max meets Leila. Along the way Sylvie’s Sydney temp agency boss offers her a job managing the new Melbourne branch. But when disaster strikes back home, will Sylvie give up her new Melbourne life?

I liked Sylvie from the moment I read the words ‘At only five foot two, she’d learnt to avoid complicated patterns or fussy designs’. A fictional kindred spirit, since I am, if I’m being honest, only five foot two myself. Then I read on and learned that she was ... the general dogsbody. Not just at the wedding, but constantly, keeping things running for her mother and sisters and doing all their errands while they swanned around being their famous artistic selves. Yes, it’s another downtrodden chick-lit heroine, overworked and under-appreciated, accepting their lot until being urged to quit by concerned family and friends. Or until being hauled away by her brother. Who she called for help with the first clue. Then she turned to Max for assistance. Then she screwed up things with him before they even got off the ground by assuming he was like her ex. For which she forgot to apologise, with the result that he assumed she wasn’t interested and felt free to pursue Leila. At the dinner party which Sylvie nearly stuffed completely because she didn’t notice that all the dishes in each course had different preparation times. Finally she decided that a hectic office job wasn’t for her (even though she was happy enough to slave away for her family) and moved in with her great-aunt after all ... probably where she would have ended up if she hadn’t gone to Melbourne at all.

Okay, so everything did work out in the end. Great-Aunt Mill turned out to be quite wonderful; I had to love a character who hired her gardener as much for looks as for ability - should my mother ever win Lotto, she’s planning to do the exact same thing. Providing lodgings for music students while sorting out the effects of the late, great jazz musician whose housekeeper/mistress Mill had been for decades sounded like fun. And after he broke up with Leila and moved to Sydney, she got another chance with Max. But it did make me wonder ... can’t I have a competent chick-lit heroine? Just once? Someone in charge of her career, someone on top of her family dramas ... someone like Miranda in Isobel Wolff’s fabulous Behaving Badly, which I’m starting to think has spoiled me for the rest of the genre. (Bridget Jones is the exception to the desire for competence. Don’t know why, but she is.)

The treasure hunt also sounded fun, and I loved Sebastian, although I did lose a little of the appreciation when he manoeuvred Sylvie into meeting her father. He had ignored her existence for 21 years, and when Sebastian revealed just why their parents had divorced my sympathy was entirely with Sylvie. I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with him either, and I couldn’t understand why Sebastian had been so forgiving.

Rating: C+

1 comment:

  1. Enjoying your blog! I love to read reviews and get ideas for books to add to my TBR list. Thanks for your comment on my blog. I hope you enjoy THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES as much as I did! The writing is an elegant tapestry that remains with me still.



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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776