Is a novel written by Dawn French, as in that Dawn French, the fat one from French & Saunders, and only published because she was Dawn French. Yes, Virginia, this is another celebrity novel. It was recommended to me by a person I met up the Clapton Hart one evening in 2013 when I was polling all the patrons there for awful stuff to deride on the internets, and this was the first thing that someone suggested that I haven't already panned (it was, in fact, the first suggestion that wasn't Fifty Shades of Grey as it happens) and because she was forced to read it for her job. Turns out that she worked at the BBC and her and her colleagues were charged with adapting it for television.

That's actually quite a horrific notion. I read shite novels because it's fun to sneer at them and because as an aspiring writer myself I can learn what not to do. She read a shite novel because her boss made her. I think she should get an employment lawyer myself, but that's just me. Anyhow. For £0.01 plus £2.75 p&p this came from Amazon and I read it.

Executive Summary

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole's Mother except without any of the funniness, incisive social commentary, or periodicity.

A bit more detail, if you wouldn't mind, please?

Firstly, though, about Dawn French. I'm in two minds about her and Jennifer Saunders to be fair. Granted they had some funny stuff but they've also done a lot of dross. The godawful 1999 sitcom "Let Them Eat Cake" about Marie Antoinette springs to mind, which was about as amusing as being guillotined. This novel clearly falls into the latter camp. Alas, it really does.

Our heroine is Maureen "Mo" Battle. She is middle aged, married, a psychiatrist specialising in teenagers, overweight, and despairing at her dysfunctional family and looking her age. She also has dark hair. In short, she is an author insert of Dawn French herself. The other characters of note are Dora, her annoying teenage daughter who's never met a stereotype she didn't like, and her camp gay son, Peter, who reckons he's Oscar Wilde. I can't help but feel that these particular characters are a tiny bit stereotypical. There's also her husband who we don't see apart from for one chapter. He's useless, allegedly, and out the way until he's needed.

The problem with this set up is twofold. Firstly, NOTHING AT ALL HAPPENS, until the last quarter of the book. And secondly, all the characters are utterly hateful stereotypes. Compounding both of these is the fact that each chapter is in a sort of internal monologue style from that character's view point reminiscing about something recent that's happened. Result? Every single page is awash with herping and derping and bad writing.

Here's an example. An early chapter features Peter/Oscar (names used interchangeably as in the text) with his club of "Enchantings" who meet in the equipment store at school and discuss stuff that is fabulous or enchanting. This includes Audrey Hepburn and suchlike. One of their number, Luke Wilson, is actually receiving counselling, unbeknownst to Oscar/Peter, and from Mo, no less, about his sexuality and how he's struggling with whether or not he is, in fact, gay. Can you see the obvious subplot here? I can. Yet we're supposed to be surprised when the two of them get it together? Really. How about spinning out the whole "Peter is gay" thing by just dropping slight hints here or there and leaving aside the lazy stereotypes about Oscar Wilde and things that are fabulous. Ugh. And the teenage daughter fretting about whether the boy she fancies is suitable in the eyes of her friend (Bechdel Test failed) and overdramatising everything. According to the friend the boy she fancies is a "troll-boy." Whatever that is. Remind me why I should care. Because the author clearly doesn't.

This laziness then carries on for hundreds and hundreds of pages until Dora the teenage daughter starts talking to someone online who she reckons is the only person who understands her and decides she fancies him, and they get talking, and she trots off to meet him, only for Dad (in his first, last, and only chapter in the book) to somehow discern that he's actually a child molester and kick his arse into the middle of next week. This allegedly forms some sort of glue that re-binds the family together and they all live happily ever after. The end.

The plot is, of course, full of holes. For instance, it's never explained how Dad worked out that "he" was actually a paedophile or anything like that. It felt like it was trying to be four novels all at once, all competing for space. That, and authorial attention and effort. Because the laziness pervades the writing as well. Peter/Oscar, for instance. We're supposed to work out he's gay and questioning his sexuality because he's all flamboyant and wishes he was Oscar Wilde but not every teenage boy who's questioning his sexuality is like that. In fact, when I was growing up, all the kids who turned out to be lesbian, gay, bi, or trans were not like that at all. It's as if Dawn French had a stereotype of the quiet, slightly camp, overdramatic kid in her mind and she was too in love with it to actually make that aspect of the novel honest or believable. Similarly, with Dora the Online Explorer, she peppered the text with "like" and "OMG" and similar ornamentation because that's clearly how teenage girls speak. Once again, over-reliance on stereotypes rather than honest content.

My edition of the book has one of my perennial bugbears, namely, a "suggested questions for reading groups." I mislike these because they tend to act as literary virtue signalling; the author and/or publishes is saying "notice this and how clever I was."

So... year. A Tiny Bit Marvellous, A Large Part Shite. I'm sure this only got published because it was written by Dawn French.


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