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.
We have a most exciting change to the schedule today. Novelist, poet and blogger, Anne Brooke, has given us a review of a new comedy novel penned by our very own Rosy Barnes!
When 38 year old Paula is rejected by her accountant boyfriend, Alan, for being too dull, she decides that drastic measures are required in order to win him back. Spying on Alan and his new girlfriend, the psychotic Belinda, gets her nowhere so she decides to change her image at the local S&M haunt, Club Liscious. The eclectic range of people she meets there change her life, but will it regain Alan’s affections?
I must say this book has one of the best first lines I’ve seen anywhere. The moment I read the words, “Paula did not really consider herself to be a stalker.”, I knew I’d be in for an interesting ride with an author who would take me to places I hadn’t expected to go. And, on the whole, the places prove to be the larger-than-life characters who inhabit Barnes’ world; this is most definitely a novel of character and the interaction between characters rather than of plot. In fact, in many ways the plot doesn’t matter too much – at times it even drifts away, or the characters decide they’ll do something else instead or change their minds entirely. It is how the characters react, and what they do – or don’t do – that counts.
That said, it’s a slow start, and I think the novel suffers a little here. Once we get to the Club (p84 in my edition), we shift up a gear, mainly due to the wonderful people Paula is about to meet – you can’t fail to be gripped by a beefy transvestite called Luda, a kind-hearted dominatrix or a naked Man in a Mask. Amongst others. And if you do fail, then I would suggest that really this isn’t the sort of book you should be reading at all … They are in fact so good that my personal view is that they should have been introduced into the mix far, far sooner than they are. Interestingly, when my own Pink Champagne and Apple Juice (comedy set in a gay nightclub, a factor which may well explain why VL asked me to review Rosy’s novel of course! …) was being edited, I was asked to remove the whole explanatory baggage of Chapter One and get my heroine Angie into The Den Nightclub as soon as humanly possible. In the end, I started the novel with Chapter Two. No-one’s ever noticed, and it at least means Angie gets to the nightclub on p13. Here I would have liked to see a whole lot more of Club Liscious before it actually arrives.
Of course, I can understand the other side of the argument: Paula is such a quiet, understated heroine, and at the start one driven to dramatic acts only through desperation and loneliness, that there’s a danger of her being subsumed by the glamour of those Club members (I use that word advisedly) who become her friends. Later, on occasions this does become the case, particularly where a major set scene is being enacted by Luda and her colourful set on Paula’s behalf. Remaining with Paula for a while, I did actually enjoy the fact that when changes occur in Paula’s mindset, they are subtle and slow – at the very end of the book she does something she would never have dared to do at the start, but she doesn’t change her character so much that it would be unbelievable. It’s a totally delicious moment and a fabulous and romantic end to the novel. Indeed, throughout most of the story, achingly normal Paula is in essence an Every(wo)man type of figure whose purpose is to act as a contrast to those who are less “normal”, but happier with themselves. The dichotomy (oh how I’ve always longed to use that word in a review, and thank you, Rosy, for giving me the opportunity to do so) of what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t is constantly before us, which is no bad thing. In Club Liscious, the bizarre is everyday and the average is frowned upon – it certainly made me think about what I question and what I don’t. Then again, I’m not sure I know any normal characters, and I’ve certainly not written about any – much – so I’m probably no guide.
However, the odd and deeply strange side of Paula is why on earth she should be so passionately in love with Alan at all. Speaking as a woman married to an accountant (and a very inspirational one at that, naturally), I was interested to see what Alan would be like and I have to say that sadly I wasn’t vastly taken with him. I would have grabbed the nearest spreadsheet and shoved it where the sun don’t shine, or run to the hills yelling with relief that he’d dumped me but then again there’s no logic in love. But he is really rather dull – I think we needed to feel more sympathy towards him if we were going to be 100% committed to Paula’s initial mission to regain his affections. If he’d been portrayed with more sexiness and sympathy, or at least kindness, then I think the story would have been more colourful at this point.
I also didn’t much like the dreadful Belinda – a thoroughly nasty piece of work – and yes I understand that I’m meant to hate her with the quality of venom normally reserved for the wicked witch in the pantomime, but I think I would have preferred either to have hated her with more gusto and for her to be stylishly wicked, or for there to be some sense of humanity in her steely white bosom. Mind you, she and Alan deserve each other – I just wish Paula could have seen this sooner. Then again, Paula wouldn’t have had half as much fun as she does or we do if she’d seen sense earlier, so I can’t complain.
Meanwhile, I mustn’t forget to talk about the set scenes. On the whole they are excellently done here – you can see the lights and hear the music (virtually speaking) very clearly. It’s very filmic indeed and this adds to that larger-than-life feel to the work. I particularly enjoyed Paula’s abortive foray into interactive art, and Belinda’s first and last dramatic entry to the Club. More please. The only time where it doesn’t quite work is during Alan’s night out with the lads which probably has way too much talking for a real accountants’ get-together. In my experience.
Finally, I couldn’t write a review without saying that Club Liscious is a great portrayal of an S&M club – or what I imagine one would be like. It’s brave, sassy, vivid and loud. And I loved every peculiar utterly charming inch of it. I will certainly never see noses in the same way again. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the Club is a fabulous main character and it’s wonderful to see how it changes the lives of the people who come up against it. Those who mould themselves into its strange siren song prosper but those who fight it don’t. A message to us all, perhaps? In the meantime, buy this novel, read it and be prepared to think differently as a result.
Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd, ISBN-13: 978-0714531816, 384 pages, £8,99.
For a chance to win a copy of Sadomasochism for Accountants, simply make yourself known to us in the comments section below. You might like to weave into your comment the words ‘fetish club’ or ‘penguin-loving geek’ or even ‘whip’… or perhaps not. ‘Pip pip’ will be accepted too. Results will be announced on Sunday 6th Feb.
You can visit RosyB’s website here and if you are very ingenious you may even find a few carefully-hidden excerpts to read.