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.
Reclusive landlord Toby Dobbs has a houseful of long-term tenants – lost and lonely souls to whom he’s happy to offer sanctuary. He knows little about them, until the day comes when he decides to sell the house. Then he is forced to get to know Joanne, Con, Ruby and Melinda and, in the process, finds a life of his own.
I picked this novel up as part of a condensed Reader’s Digest collation of three similar novels in a second-hand book shop as I was desperate for something light and jolly to read (well, the doom and gloom of the Christmas period does rather tend to get me down, you know). I wasn’t really expecting very much as I’m not a great fan of Lisa Jewell, having read her first novel, Ralph’s Party, and thought the ending unaccountably cold and rather irritating.
But with 31 Dream Street, I was more than pleasantly surprised. In fact I loved it and may well try another Jewell book in the future – just as long as it’s not about the wretched Ralph. That said, I didn’t really notice any great lack at all in this condensed version of the novel, so perhaps all books should be condensed before publication? It would certainly save on paper and any flabby bits of prose that might still be lying about in these less than editorially perfect days, as it were.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that this is chicklit and the main character is a man, by … um … George. Gosh, whatever next? And what a truly lovely man Toby is, being quirky and deeply confused by people, honourable and shy, all at the same time. Indeed I think I may actually be married to Toby by another name, or at least a very close relative of his. Suffice it to say that there are some utterly delightful Confused Man moments which had me spluttering in my soup. If I ate much soup.
The other characters in the house, and not forgetting the lovely Leah over the road who is an absolute joy and a wonderful foil for Toby, are also on the whole very well done indeed. Here’s Leah trying to explain to Toby how he can get people to talk about themselves:
‘Well, it’s easy. You just have to ask loads of questions.’
‘Oh God. What sort of questions?’
‘I don’t know. Just ask them how they are. What they’re up to. What their plans are.’
‘Really?’ He winced. ‘But won’t they think I’m being very interfering?’
‘No, of course they won’t. People love being asked about themselves.’
‘Do they? I don’t.’
‘No, well, not everyone. But most people.’
I loved the fact that they’re all misfits but delightfully so and trying to find their unique ways through life. Ah well, we’ve all been there, eh. Some of us still are.
The only one I wasn’t sure about and whose backstory was far more clumsily told and resolved was the mysterious Joanne. The “reveal” about her life and terrible tragedy came far too late in the book and was dumped on us in one great glut, which never works. Her issues should at least have been hinted at, or perhaps kept to a separate novel of her own. There’s certainly enough in her for one.
On the other hand, I particularly enjoyed the storyline between Con and his on-off girlfriend Daisy, and thought that the very complex issues there were well handled. Here’s Con trying to tell Daisy how much she means to him when she’s in hospital by giving her a poem he’s written:
‘No. Don’t talk. You don’t have to say anything. Look – here. I’ve got you something else.’ He pulled the poem from his jacket pocket and handed it to her.
She looked, unfolded it and started to read. Con watched her intently as she read, trying to gauge her reaction. She folded up the poem, rested it on her lap and smiled.
‘Con?’ she said.
‘I love you, too.’
Wonderful. I enjoyed the fact that Jewell seemed willing to look at emotions in rather more depth than she did in Ralph’s Party. The humour is not too far behind though, and the courtship between Toby and Leah is a delightfully slow one and all the better for it.
So, whilst the literary motif of a house with a variety of different characters in it isn’t by any means a fresh one, it’s handled here with subtlety and finesse, and makes for a very enjoyable read.
31 Dream Street, Reader’s Digest, ISBN: 978 0 276 44221 6
Also available as an ebook
[Anne thoroughly enjoys old houses with personality but has recently given hers up in order to live somewhere light and modern, ah bliss …]