Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Climbing a Ladder Backwards by Kal Bonner: misrepresenting Bridget …

Rose Murdock, single, straight and on the brink of bitter and twisted, believes maturity is a word best applied to wine, lists malingering as her favourite pastime and has filed her love life under missing in action – presumed dead. Dumped by her boyfriend, Gary, in a place she doesn’t want to be, in a job she hates, lorded over by a boss she plans to murder and drowning in a sea of meaningless office politics, Rose is about to be thrown two lifelines. The only problem is – has she staggered too far down the path of complacency and lethargy to grab the right one? Alex Steiner, single, gay and best friend to Rose, holds a deck of life-cards all firmly stacked in his favour. The only cloud on his golden horizon is his inability to confess his real sexual preferences to his parents and put a stop to their determined quest to find him a bride. But a key to a dilapidated house in Tuscany, flowers from an unknown admirer and a mysterious man from Hong Kong are about to change everything.

Well, there you go. All sounded very promising at the blurb stage, I thought. Moreover, this book benefits considerably from a highly interesting and gripping cover and a first sentence that is absolutely stunning:

Rose Murdock and Alex Steiner used to live next door to a man who had murdered his wife with a frozen chicken.

I was hugely excited when I read that and prepared myself for a journey of surreal excitement and off-the-wall story-telling. Oh dear, I needn’t have bothered. What follows from that glorious first sentence does not, I’m sad to say, live up to its glittering promise at all.

Because what follows is a rather feeble and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a Bridget Jones for our times. Much of the story is conveyed in IM – ie Instant Messaging via computer for those of us not in the know – which is certainly an interesting and theoretically dynamic way of updating the diary format. However, it quickly becomes irritating and has the effect of highlighting the shallowness of the main characters in a way that the diary form does not. I’m not sure why this should be so – does the diary form carry with it the potential for character depth in a way that IM does not? It’s a mystery. Though, with IM, you do have to rely on virtual dialogue alone, which can be very sparse and give an impression of too much lightness. Perhaps the novel would be better read aloud? Bonner does have one radio play to her name, so maybe she’s happier there. Although it did strike me that the author felt largely uncomfortable with the IM approach to novel writing and didn’t give it her best attention – as to my mind the parts of the novel (sadly not as many as are really needed here) which are conveyed via simple narrative are by far the most effective. Each time I came to them, I breathed that proverbial sigh of relief, and wondered if Bonner might be doing the same …

Our heroine, Rose, also came across as rather too much of a bitch for my liking. I’m always happy to see work issues tackled in novels but, by the time I was halfway through, I was longing for her boss to sack her and put us all out of our misery. In fact I did find my sympathies moving towards her boss whom she hates so much and I began to wonder how it would be if we heard at least some of the story from his point of view. It reminded me (sorry, but I can’t remember the author or the title – can any VL reader help?) of a fairly recent-ish book about the classical affair between Catullus and his Lesbia, but retold with great wit, style and sense from Lesbia’s viewpoint. That would be good here.

There were also some aspects of the plot in this novel that were distinctly dodgy or unsatisfying. I’m sorry but I really don’t believe that if a mystery person keeps ringing you up at work and if you’d had (and I’m trying desperately not to give away too much!) a close friendship with them for some time in the past, you wouldn’t ever recognise their voice. No matter how much they might disguise it. I snorted when I got to that page and found out who it had been. Really?? Um, no … There were also times when old clichés were used, as if they were new – again I’m sorry but the incident where some drunk female guest licks the ice sculpture at a wedding and then gets stuck was old-hat when it was done in My Best Friend’s Wedding, and is almost pre-historic now – surely this should have been completely cut at the editing stage? I was also surprised to find out on page 192 that Rose is – or was – a keen artist. Did I miss something earlier on?? I had no idea of that fact at all, and I was paying attention. Or thought I was … If she is an artist, it would have been really nice to have had a lot more of that aspect of our heroine. It would certainly have added depth and interest, but I don’t think it’s mentioned again. All very odd.

But, in spite of all this, there are some funny one-off lines that made me laugh. So it’s not an entire waste of time. Here’s Rose battling with the IT department on the phone about her broken computer:

Rose switched the machine on and smiled with relief as it flickered back to life.
“I sense from the embarrassed silence that it’s working again,” said the voice.
“No thanks to you,” retorted Rose.
“I’d like to ask you out for a drink, but rumour has it that you’ve got fat ankles,” said the voice.
“You know what – they should rename IT,” said Rose.
“To what?”
“To Terrific IT,” said Rose before cutting the call.

Nice one. And here’s Rose struggling to get into a body-shaping garment for a party:

“If God had made me with only two ribs, or even just one long one across the middle, it would be an almost perfect fit,” she rasped.

However, bearing in mind this novel is classed as romantic comedy (despite the cover and first line that actually scream “surreal modern novel”), the romance isn’t really that good. The man whom Rose ends up with is merely sketched in, and she doesn’t seem to love him at all – she just wants someone to be with, and he’ll do. Hmm, not good, eh. Additionally her gay friend Alex has a couple of almost-moments in terms of his romantic life, but neither ever goes anywhere. To me, as a keen reader and writer of GLBT fiction, it seemed highly unlikely that he wouldn’t even kiss Gianni, the Italian love interest. Especially as Gianni was so lovely and the most human person in the novel, even though he only appears for two pages. Dammit. It didn’t seem realistic to me. I’d also spotted Alex’s boss’s romantic potential very early on, but again that came to nothing.

Furthermore, the ending is deeply unsatisfying – Rose has made no decision about whether she loves her man or not but is going abroad to be with him anyway, and Alex all but fizzles out. I felt thoroughly cheated, to be honest.

And all the more so as it’s my profound and instinctive belief that Bonner is a good writer. The narrative non-IM sections of the novel are perfectly well-written but I gained the impression that she wasn’t much interested in her would-be chick lit story anyway, none of which flows from that wonderful first line and none of which matches the cover. I’d like Bonner to take that first line again and write the surreal modern feminist novel that would actually flow from it, with the deep and off-the-wall characters it really hints at. Whilst ditching the IM nonsense and the ridiculous and unhelpful “write what sells, my dears” marketing demands, and trusting in her normal writing powers. I believe she can do it. More than that, I believe she should do it. And if the real novel of Climbing a Ladder Backwards ever resurfaces, I’d be willing to read it. Unfortunately, this current beast ain’t it.

Climbing a Ladder Backwards by Kal Bonner (Mathew Street Press, 2009), ISBN: 978-0-9559863-0-7

[Anne longs for writers to write what really matters to them, and just forget for one minute what the heck might sell. You won’t get a good career but at least you’ll get a good book. For more of her really important literary opinions, please click here.]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

38 comments on “Climbing a Ladder Backwards by Kal Bonner: misrepresenting Bridget …

  1. Nikki
    January 27, 2010

    I think the IM form would force you into superficiality, wouldn’t it? After all, who has a deep and meaningful over IM? I write a diary and that’s where I put my true feelings. I use IM to have a quick catch up, but if it starts getting heavy I type, “Hang on, I’ll ring you.” Typing and waiting for an answer just doesn’t have the same openness that a voice-to-voice/face-to-face chat does. And certainly not like a diary. Bridget can confess in her diary that actually she quite fancies Mark Darcy, but she’ll never do that over IM, after all, who would she say it to?

    I was a Bridget Jones fan (still am, really) and I can’t say I’m much into really bitchy main characters (funny as the body shaping thingamee line is – that’s Jones too). I think I’m more tempted by that Catullus/Lesbia book than by this one. So if anyone has the title for that…

    I agree with you about writers writing what matters to them. I think you can tell when they’re writing to sell and that makes for uncomfortable reading. Plus, I tried writing what sells once and spent a week feeling utterly miserable and making cow eyes at my one true unpublishable love.

  2. annebrooke
    January 27, 2010

    Nikki – I think you might be right. I’ve just never used IM, so it’s alien to me. Lordy, I don’t even have a microwave, so you can probably tell where I’m coming from …

    Wish I could remember that Catullus take-off book!! And I’m entirely with you on making my own cow eyes at all my own unpublishable work …
    :)

    Axxx

  3. Lorraine Powell
    January 27, 2010

    Aaah Anne, firstly nice to know I’m not the only person who doesn’t own a microwave or know how to IM (and as for I pods, bluetooth well and all that….I know how to use word and get online and work a DVD player and I’m happy!)

    But to the review, fantastic as ever. I think you sum up what is wrong with a lot of writing when you say..

    I’d like Bonner to take that first line again and write the surreal modern feminist novel that would actually flow from it, with the deep and off-the-wall characters it really hints at. Whilst ditching the IM nonsense and the ridiculous and unhelpful “write what sells, my dears” marketing demands, and trusting in her normal writing powers.

    Most people start writing because they are passionate about stories and characters and want to get it down on paper and bring them to life. Then the ‘this sells’ or ‘for this genre you should x, y & z’ come in and a lot of the soul of the story is lost. I know for commercial fiction you have to write to a certain formula but surely something must get lost along the way (and not always what needs to be lost!)?

    That all said I haven’t read the book so I’m not commenting about it specifically, just a general observation!

  4. annebrooke
    January 27, 2010

    Thanks, Lorraine! Though isn’t bluetooth something the dentist can help us with? Ah, I’m lost in this brave new world, really. :)

    I do so agree with you about the impetus for writing and how it should be the passion that drives you and not the market. Whenever people tell me to consider my reading market, I groan inside and want to say – no, instead, consider your writing self. But I appreciate that these days that’s a minority view!

    Axxx

  5. Jackie
    January 27, 2010

    Wonder whose idea it was to make the book full of IM(which I have used, though I haven’t a microwave, despite 97% of Americans who do), was it the author’s idea to be different or a publisher’s idea of trendy? But even without that, you say the characters don’t do much or develop, so maybe this was a half-baked book all around?
    Personally, I don’t like the cover. Could the dress be any shorter? And Rose sounds middle-aged, “on the brink of bitter and twisted”, yet the female on the cover looks like a teenager; there’s no way someone in their 30’s or so would be that thin & shapeless. I do like the socks, though.

  6. annebrooke
    January 27, 2010

    I think you’re right there, Jackie! And the socks are amazing – wish I had them! :)

    Axxx

  7. Hilary
    January 29, 2010

    Hmmm. I am hugely admiring of any author who attempts to exploit the literary potential of new forms of expression(such as IM). But if it doesn’t work, it’s a shame.

    And I do so agree with you about office politics – I swim in a sea of them, and try not to wonder too often if the people who are making my life – er – less pleasant than they should be aren’t thinking the equal and opposite of me. But I am always on the side of right and virtue … isn’t that so? Surely, surely … . So a character who seems a bit of a bitch, yet the virtuous one in a poisonous work situation – one can’t help wondering if that computes.

    But I too love the socks.

  8. Anne Brooke
    January 29, 2010

    But of course, Hilary – we are all on the side of virtue here! :)

    And if I find those socks, I will buy in bulk for us …

    Axxx

  9. jayne charles
    February 17, 2010

    I was given is book by a friend as I use to live in Jersey and work in finance. I found the book to be very funny and quite ture to life in Jersey. With it being such a small place and everyone knowing everyone many people including men are very bitching its all about who knows who and who has what£££. I think if Rose was anything other than bitchy it just wouldn’t of sat right.
    As for the IM i found it broke the book up making it easier to read holding my attention more. Also being someone who has friends all over the world I myself use IM to keep in contact with many of them unfortunaly writing letters has become a thing of the past and it was nice to see a mondren approach on how people communicate.

    p.s. I have those socks you can get them on ebay!

  10. annebrooke
    February 17, 2010

    Thanks for the comment, Jayne! Good to know someone liked the book :) And well done on those socks!!

    Anne B

  11. Rachael
    March 24, 2010

    I totally agree with you on this Jayne, I live in London and although I do not work in the Finance industry I do work in an office and found that the use of IM’s is the new way of sending letters talking on the phone etc.

    Anne I do not know how old you are or what you do for a living but, this book does sum up how things are nowadays, and I feel Kal Bonner – “Bonner” you refer too deserves a bit more respect for her writing talent and how she has captured office politics, and has the ability to make me laugh out loud. Trust me it takes a lot more than a simple gag or joke, to force me to laugh out loud.

    For me this book is a breath of fresh air, compared to the some of the novels I have read.

    I do not think this author is trying to replicate anything with to do with Bridget Jones, as she is the total opposite and not some dippy 30’odd desperate to find love.

    She actually sounds like so many of us women who do live and work in this modern day environment, and just getting by.

    So from me to you, and to Kal Bonner if shes out there well done great book and when’s the next installment.

  12. annebrooke
    March 25, 2010

    Point taken, Rachael! :) And I am indeed older than Noah and with a job so specialised that if I told you about it I fear I would have to shoot myself. For me, however, that blast of air from the novel was sadly rather too stale and bitter to enjoy, alas …

    Nice to know at least someone managed to enjoy such a book though!

    A

  13. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    I stumbled across this website whilst looking for more books by the author.

    Hum! some mixed reviews here I see, sounds like a couple of the people who have left comments without actually reading the book, shame as it is not full of IM’s yes it has them but the narrative in-between is very funny, witty and very cleverly done.

    The story is great I work with a Rose and a Lard Arse & also have a male gay friend who is actually successful in his field.

    The comments about the cover are well ridiculous, and as they say never judge a book by its cover!

    But I agree with Rachael:-

    “For me this book is a breath of fresh air, compared to the some of the novels I have read.
    I do not think this author is trying to replicate anything with to do with Bridget Jones, as she is the total opposite and not some dippy 30′odd desperate to find love.
    She actually sounds like so many of us women who do live and work in this modern day environment, and just getting by.”

    I kept asking myself is this me, give the author credit where credit is due I think Kal done a great job and I know my friends have all loved this novel.

    Happy reading and if anyone knows when this writer has a new novel coming out please let me know.

  14. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    But, Katherine, the book is so darned hard to read! Still, I did struggle through it for the sake of the review, so you must give me credit for that.

    I begin to fear for modern life, however, if this book is an accurate mirror of it :)

    I hope the new novel is better. I do think Bonner can write, but she could, I’m sure of it, do so much better.

    Anne

  15. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    Anne,

    I’m astounded to hear you say that you struggled to read this novel and strongly believe there is a generation gap thing going on here.

    Have you ever worked for a large corporation or financial intuition particularly in the last 10 years? if not then yes you may struggle to understand this novel.

    You probably also think IPhone’s are the devils work!

    Kath

  16. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    Kath – indeed I am older than the mountains so it’s really astonishing I can read at all. Let alone be allowed to work. A miracle of modern science, no less. Though I do admit to struggling with all novels which include shallow characters and not much plot, even old books.

    I must put you right on the technology assumption though – it’s common knowledge that actually it’s treasury tags that are the devil’s work! Be warned, and avoid them …
    :)

    Anne

  17. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    Anne,

    You’re completely wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong, the characters are so real to life they jump off the page.

    Kath

  18. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    But, my dear Kath, how wonderful it must be to be right all the time. You must let me know how that feels … :)

    Thankfully, in my case, those pesky characters slid off the page and straight into the bin. Which was a blessed relief in so many ways!

    Anne

  19. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    My dear patronising Anne, from your last nasty unprofessional post, I’m beginning to realise that there is one person more bitter and twisted than Rose and that’s you. I can’t believe that an outfit like Vulpes allows someone like you near a book! Sounds to me like you’re some kind of disgruntled failed writer with an axe to grind.

    kath

  20. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    Kath – it’s part of Vulpes’ wonderful Widening Participation movement. The rest of them are lovely, but they do need one bitter, nasty and twisted failed-writer reviewer to whom they can give the mediocre books to review. Result: fireworks!

    Always good to chat …
    :)

    Anne

  21. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    Yes, looking at your Lulu masterpieces I’m sure you are an expert on mediocre books. And despite your feeble and misguided attempts at humour I have to reiterate that Kal Bonner’s isn’t one of them.

  22. Lisa
    March 26, 2010

    Katherine, Anne is quite entitled to her opinion. There is surely no absolute right and wrong when it comes to a reader’s own opinion of a book’s merits? You evidently liked this book and found much to admire. Anne did not. I’m not quite sure why you are attacking Anne so personally here – I certainly do not see Anne attacking you. If anything, Anne seems to be responding to your remarks in a rather restrained fashion. Anyhow, I’m Co-Admin of Vulpes Libris and I must warn you that if you post any more personally abusive messages about Anne (e.g. “Nasty, bitter, twisted” etc), they’ll be immediately deleted.

  23. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    Thanks, Lisa!

    Katherine – I suspect even you must admit you may have gone a little too far now with this line of argument. I may indeed be – in many ways, and as I freely admit! – an expert on mediocre books (Bonner et al), but mediocre human behaviour is a tad beyond me.

    I do believe we must, in time-honoured fashion, shake hands at this point and agree to differ!

    Anne

  24. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    Dear Lisa and Anne

    I’m about to email the author’s agent firstly asking if you had permission to reproduce part of this book on your site and all the other sites I’ve just found that it’s been linked to. Secondly I’m going to ask if they would like to comment on the insinuation that the author should stick to radio plays.
    And thirdly I’m going to post this to every other social networking site to see if anyone else has something to add about what has been said.
    You seem to support your employees being rude and as a reader of this site I thought you had more class than that.
    Me personally I support young talent struggling to break through.

  25. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    Dear Katherine

    Always delighted to receive any visitors who may turn up at our virtual door. We will bake a cake for them all and welcome them with pleasure!
    :)

    All good wishes

    Anne

  26. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    Let’s I hope you feel that happy when its the authors lawyers.

  27. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    We’ll bake a second cake! Seriously though all are of course welcome to join in any stimulating and reasonable discussion focused on books – that’s what Vulpes is all about.

    Anne

  28. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    Apart from when someone disagrees with you and you have to get someone to step in with a threat. I guess this is probably the biggest readership you’ve ever had.
    Oh and by the way I don’t know if Lulu explains the meaning of infringement of copy right. Maybe you should look it up whilst you’re baking that cake.

  29. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    But, Katherine, you’re welcome to cake and discussion too! No need to feel left out.

    Readership?? I have a readership??!? Gosh. First I’ve heard of it – I feel quite touched at the thought …

    Again, it is wonderful to know how much passion books and our opinion of them can stir up within us. The worst that can happen in the reading world is that we become indifferent to the glory of the written word. Long may such passion continue is what I say.

    All good wishes

    Anne

  30. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    Anne I know you think that you’re humourous. You’re probaly sitting there laughing at your own jokes, determined to get the last word in because someone has given you what you believe to be a modicum of power. How very sad.
    What I’d like to know is why Lisa isn’t moderating you.

  31. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    I’ll eave you now to jabber on and on and on….to yourself.

  32. Katherine Hobbs
    March 26, 2010

    Of course that should say ‘leave’ ‘leave’ ‘leave’.

  33. annebrooke
    March 26, 2010

    :)

    A

  34. Jools
    March 26, 2010

    Deary me Katherine, do you not believe in people having differing opinions on things. I suspect that if we all liked the same things the world would be a very boring place full of rude people who want to force their own opinions on others.

    You are entitled to your opinion but |I fear that the only person who has been deemed a bit rude here is you, not Anne. There’s feeling passionately about something and there’s taking it too far which I feel you have. but then that’s just my opinion and as much as you may hate it (like you seem to hate Anne’s too) it won’t change. Each to their own I say!

  35. elizabethashworth
    March 26, 2010

    I’ve been reading this thread in amazement. A book review is a person’s personal opinion of a book and there are as many opinions as there are people. You may not agree with a review but to be so rude to the reviewer is totally unacceptable. In fact to be so rude to anyone for any reason is totally unacceptable and to start threatening legal action on top of personal abuse is just plain silly.

    I wonder why ‘Katherine Hobbs’ is so upset?

  36. Rachael
    March 27, 2010

    Oh dear,

    Whats going on here, Liz, (can I call you that Elizabeth?) I also have read the threads here as well.

    But I think Kath had a point from earlier posts on this thread here, without sitting on a fence I did read all this the comments and to be honest did feel that Anne was patronising, at times. I mean come on, the point that Kath made and I have searched and seen with my own eyes that there does seem to be a personal attack on this debut novelist which is a shame as everyone deserves a chance in life. A review is a review so why the many posys all over the net?

    This is an interesting point, and well worth taking into consideration.

    Funnily I did stuble across another review by the well know Scott Pack – Meandmybigmouth he was very professional on his review. 1 x post and that’ was it so Kath had a very valid point you have to admit.

    As of Jools well I’m sorry this an independant person who has read the book, and read this review and forum and to be honest found that the posting of this on many various forum’s is a peronal attack on the author check the net!

    If you seach carefully Anne is actually promoting what has gone on on this site as well which if you had any morals is disgusting in it’s own right.

    I for one will never use this site in the future for a book review but has been interested in how this has panned out.

    I mean talk about life repeating art….. Need I say anymore (IM’s etc)

    I rest my case on this, there is only one winner and she is probably not even aware what’s going on here.

    So to all “all the best” let’s remember we have young men being sent into a pointless war, that our goverment cannot afford to pay.

    Let this lie, and us all get on with our lives.

  37. Rachael
    March 27, 2010

    Terrible spelling I know but hey, a Friday night post after a few in Soho and the late tube home plus a night cap! say’s it all.

  38. Moira
    March 27, 2010

    All right. Enough. We didn’t call ‘time’ on this before because:

    (a) There was a horrible, slow-train-wreck fascination about it, and

    (b) We don’t intervene in the comments section without very good cause.

    However, having checked the IP addresses and ISPs of those so loyally defending the book and its author we discover them ALL – without exception – to be very closely clustered in the Channel Islands.

    If this inept attempt at manipulation continues, we will simply close down the comments on this review.

    We would, however, like to make the following points:

    1. It is not an infringement of copyright to quote from a book that is being reviewed.

    2. Our reviewers are all unpaid. We have no ‘employees’.

    3. Our reviewers are free to post links to their reviews wherever they please. Anne always posts links on Facebook, Twitter and her own blogs. Additionally, Vulpes Libris itself has Twitter and Facebook pages. This is standard practice within the blogging community.

    Moira Briggs
    Co-Administrator
    Vulpes Libris

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This entry was posted on January 27, 2010 by in Entries by Anne, Fiction: 21st Century, Fiction: romance and tagged , , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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