Review: Fiction: The Forced Redundancy Film Club by Brian Finnegan
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The relationship men have with chick-lit is an interesting one, best compared to a cocktail: they won't normally want to be seen drinking one, but in the right circumstances -- a holiday, or at the end of a stressful week -- they'll appreciate a well-made tipple, savouring its unashamed sweetness and the ease with which it goes down.
It may smack of stereotype, but it tends to hold true -- and it's openly embraced by authors, readers and publishers alike.
It's also the reason you'll seldom see a man's name printed on a chick-lit cover, but Brian Finnegan has taken a brave swing at the gender divide with this novel.
The journalist and editor of Gay Community News has seized upon the recessionary zeitgeist for his debut, which follows the exploits of five former colleagues after their collective layoff from Qwertec.
The group is a mixed bag, ranging from an icy career woman to a gay philanderer, who decide -- without explanation -- to form a film club and keep in touch.
And it is the monthly meetings of this club that form the story's framework, as the characters delve into the meaning of each film and interpret it based on their ongoing experiences.
As with any story, they're all looking for something -- a new job, a biological mum, some sexual reprieve and, of course, good old-fashioned happiness.
And Finnegan puts the films to good use in driving the narrative, as the characters offer revealing takes on old favourites like Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz, as well as such modern classics as Brokeback Mountain.
However, this device proves a double-edged sword.
We've all been in a situation where a discussion turns to a film we haven't seen -- there's nothing to do other than sit there and wait patiently for a chance to gently nudge the conversation along.
The film club scenes in this novel can be intriguing and effective when you're familiar with their subject, but otherwise you're propelled straight into that uncomfortable group scenario -- only here, you're powerless to intervene.
In that sense, Finnegan has created a lose-lose situation for himself; well-versed buffs who have seen all these films will have developed a taste for finely crafted narrative along the way. Those who haven't will simply be lost in a sea of meaningless references.
So it's unfortunately ironic that the book extols the virtues of escapism as it does (the main players use the club to close out all sorts of realities).
Ultimately, coarsely constructed characters and unnatural dialogue mean that the joys of escapism are reserved solely for the characters themselves.
Those of us looking in, on the other hand, will find it impossible to get lost in their tribulations.
This particular cocktail does not go down easy -- and women's monopoly on chick-lit is safe for now.