Sunday 17 December 2017

Review: Postcards from the Heart by Ella Griffin

Orion, €10.99, Paperback

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and discerning chick-lit fans would be well advised to adhere to this old adage when approaching Ella Griffin's debut novel.

The proliferation of shades of pink, the trio of hearts and the scrawled girly font might lead you to place Postcards from the Heart at the fluffier end of the chick-lit scale. However, between the girly covers lies an accomplished addition to the genre, a heart-warming take on modern Ireland that veers toward more serious topics and themes while retaining its sense of humour and upbeat pace.

The four main characters pass the narrative baton in an accomplished storytelling relay: uptight advertising executive Saffy; her himbo boyfriend Greg, recently voted Ireland's ninth most eligible bachelor and star of a trashy Dublin soap set in a fire station; their old friend Conor, a frustrated teacher desperate to write his first novel; and his partner Jess, a journalist who has resorted to penning advertorial fluff.

Griffin follows the two couples as they struggle with a myriad of problems: infidelity, debt, illness and recession. But the former advertising executive and debut novelist never dwells on the weighty and serious for too long, and at times the novel reads like a Dublin version of Sex and the City. This is particularly true in the sections devoted to Saffy's office, the cut-throat world of advertising which Griffin, undoubtedly drawing on her inside knowledge, depicts in such a saucy and laugh-out-loud manner.

If chick-lit were a girls' school, then Marian Keyes would be the popular head girl everyone wants to be but the complimentary quote adorning Griffin's pink-fest cover warrants more attention than the two authors' friendship might suggest. "Griffin can make you laugh and then cry at the turn of a page," notes Keyes. And she does, but this is where the first serious criticism can be levelled at the book. When Griffin tackles more emotionally weighty issues, it jars with these quite humorous elements: the mixture is not a toxic one but the combining process needs a little work.

One other little niggle centres on Griffin's propensity to people the pages with references to what are ostensibly real people and locations from contemporary Dublin, but altered ever so slightly to allow them to take their place in her fictional world. For example, Greg loses his job on the station after the arrival of hunky Damo Doyle of the boyband BoyRus, a singer making the transition to acting -- ring any bells with anyone? Real cultural references altered in such a slight manner just annoy the reader, but those included in their true form, which Griffin also includes, lend an authenticity to the Dublin life being depicted.

Griffin draws the reader into each character's world when their turn to carry that narrative comes around. There is nothing predictable in terms of plotting, and the twists and turns Saffy's love life take feel like they faithfully mirror our own erratic existences.

If you want to be one step ahead of the hordes of devotees Griffin is bound to attract with her next few novels, then make sure you grab Postcards from the Heart off the bookshelf, just don't dwell too long on the cover ...

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