Tuesday 24 October 2017

Review: A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French

Penguin, €22.22, Hardback

When Dawn French's Dear Fatty was published two years ago, it reinvigorated a celebrity-memoir market bloated with the slim stories of baby-faced pop singers, reality TV stars and the multiple volumes that constitute the life of Katie 'Jordan' Price thus far.

French's memoir was constructed as a series of letters to the people in her life, including her beloved father, who killed himself when she was 19. It was touching and honest and it sold by the truckload.

French has not strayed too far from that raw material for her debut novel. A Tiny Bit Marvellous is the story of Mo Battle, a woman on the verge of entering her 50s and, as she sees it, checking out of life. Mo is a psychologist writing a book called Teenagers: The Manual -- but she can't get through to the two she has at home. Daughter Dora, about to turn 18, is resentful, angry and devoted to Facebook. Son Pete is channelling Oscar Wilde in both speech and a desire to own a velvet smoking jacket.

After 27 long years of marriage, Mo and 'Husband' have gone grey inside and out.

"I have been closing down for more years than I was opening up," notes Mo.

It's hard not to translate Mo into French when she examines her weight, her marital crises, the complex relationship between mother and teenage daughter. French and her husband Lenny Henry, parents to adopted daughter Billie, finalised their divorce last month after 26 years of marriage.

French makes valiant efforts for A Tiny Bit Marvellous not to be all about Mo. She, Dora and Pete take alternate turns in narrating the chapters.

Poor Dora though, her sentences punctuated to the point of idiocy with 'OMG' and 'like, totally', sounds less like an actual 17-year-old than a 50-year-old's impersonation of one.

Bizarrely enough for a woman who made a career of comedy, French is at her most readable when she's not trying to be funny.

'Husband', nameless and voiceless for most of the book, somehow emerges the sloppy but loveable heart of this dysfunctional family. He does get a name at the end: Denys, the same as French's father.

This book might not be a second volume of French's memoirs, but in a way it's a reimagined sequel.

Irish Independent

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