‘Lost Things’ by Jenny Offill ****

I very much enjoyed Jenny Offill’s second novel, Dept. of Speculation, and happily hunted down her debut, Last Things, which was published in 1999.  The Irish Times calls the novel a ‘glorious debut’, and The Times writes that ‘Offill creates for Grace a mesmerising imaginary world…  She writes with a heartbreaking clarity… and is dextrously able to evoke emotional extremity through pitch-perfect narrative compression.’ 9781408879719

The protagonist and narrator of Last Things is Grace Davitt, who is seven years old when the novel begins, and who lives in Vermont with her parents.  She finds her volatile mother, Anna, ‘a puzzling yet wonderful mystery.  This is a woman who has seen a sea serpent in the lake, who paints a timeline of the universe on the sewing-room wall, and who teaches her daughter a secret language which only they can speak.’  Her father, schoolteacher Jonathan, is an antithesis to her mother; he trusts only scientific evidence, and ‘finds himself shut out by Anna as she draws Grace deeper and deeper into a strange world of myth and obsession.’

Offill captures her young protagonist’s voice wonderfully and believably.  She weaves in childish fantasies of Grace’s, which are rather lovely at times: ‘I closed my eyes and tried to dream in another language’, for instance.  From its opening pages, the novel is an incredibly thoughtful one.  Grace imparts: ‘Another time, my mother told me that when I was born every language in the world was in my head, waiting to take form.  I could have spoken Swahili or Urdu or Cantonese, but now it was too late.’  Throughout, and with the guidance of both her parents, Grace is trying to make sense of the world around her.  This is made more difficult, as her parents tend to disagree about everything.

Grace’s mother is bound up in stories which she fashions both for her daughter, and for herself.  These stories confuse Grace, and serve only to muddle the truth for her: ‘Sometimes I tried to guess which of my mother’s stories were true and which were not, but I was usually wrong.’  Anna takes Grace to a nearby lake each morning, before anyone else arrives, in order to try and catch a glimpse of a monster which she is convinced lives there.  She has some rather peculiar notions about the world, and how one should behave.  ‘Sometimes,’ Grace tells us, ‘my mother tired of looking for the monster and we’d go to the park instead.  The rule about the park was that we could only go there if we went in disguise.  Otherwise, men might stop and talk to us.’

All of the characters in Last Things have unusual quirks.  Grace’s babysitter, sixteen-year-old Edgar, is a science prodigy, who answers questions only if he is interested in the answer.  One morning, he imparts a dream of his, in which ‘one day entire cities might be illuminated by mold.’  Of her cousin, Grace states: ‘Grooming was important to Mary because she believed her portrait would one day appear on a dollar bill.  The summer before, she had sent away in the mail for a kit to start her own country.  Martyrdom, it was going to be called.  It wasn’t ready yet because there was a lot of paperwork to do, she said.’  Her father carries around a book entitled Know Your Constitution!, which he uses to write letters to the newspaper.

The family dynamic which Offill presents is fascinating.  Offill probes the decisions which Grace’s parents have made, and the sometimes amusing effects which they have had on their only child: ‘I had never been to church because my father had vowed to raise me a heathen.  A heathen was a godless thing, my mother explained.  In some parts of America, it was against the law to be one.  On Sundays, I watched from the woods as the Christians drove by.  The women had on dresses and the men wore dark suits.  Sometimes I threw rocks at their cars and waited to see what God would do.  Nothing much, it turned out.’

I rarely see reviews of Offill’s work, which I feel is a real shame.  I can only hope the this review has piqued someone’s interest in this novel, or her more popular Dept. of Speculation.  This novel is funny, and whilst at times it appears lighthearted, there is a darker undercurrent to it.  The characters are realistic creations, and will stay in your head for weeks afterwards.  Particularly for a debut, Last Things is accomplished, and has such a surety about it.

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‘Edith’s Diary’ by Patricia Highsmith ****

I read and enjoyed a couple of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley books quite some years ago, and it has taken me until almost a decade later to seek out more of her rather large oeuvre.  Edith’s Diary, a psychological crime story, was the first full-length novel not featuring Mr Ripley which I chose to read.  The Virago edition, which was republished along with several other Highsmith titles, has an introduction by crime writer Denise Mina, which I found to be measured and quite insightful.

9780349004556Since its publication in 1977, the novel has been highly praised.  The Times calls Edith’s Diary ‘masterly… haunting…  a book that lingers in the memory and constantly disturbs and delights.’  The New Yorker believes it to be ‘a work of extraordinary force and feeling…  her strongest, her most imaginative and by far her most substantial novel.’  Writer A.N. Wilson says: ‘Edith’s Diary is certainly one of the saddest novels I ever read, but it is also one of the mere twenty or so that I would say were perfect, unimprovable masterpieces.’

In her introduction, Mina notes: ‘Regardless of genre or form, it is touching on truth that gives writing well weight and profundity.  Patricia Highsmith is a great writer.  Her truths are not always comfortable.  They’re not easy to own, but we know them when we read them.  We might flinch at what she points out, but we can’t dent it. Truth not only makes fiction more believable, it is what makes reading potentially life-changing.’

At the beginning of the novel, protagonist Edith Howland is moving from her New York apartment to a house in the suburbs in Brunswick, Pennsylvania, with her husband Brett and ten-year-old son Cliffie.  Highsmith is perceptive of the effect which this upheaval has on their psychopathic son: ‘The move was real, not something he had imagined…  Cliffie often imagined much more violent things, like a bomb going off under their apartment building, even under all of New York, the whole city going up sky-high with no survivors.  But suddenly this, their moving to another state, was somehow like a real bomb going off under his own feet.’  As soon as they have moved, Cliffie tries to smother the family’s cat beneath the bedspread, the first incident of many in which the reader recoils from him.  Edith is very well informed politically, and has such an awareness of what is going on in the world around her, but her son’s behaviour, and his unwillingness to do anything, leaves her baffled.

The novel begins in 1955, and spans many years.  A couple of months after the family has settled into their new house, Brett’s uncle, a rather cantankerous old man named George, comes to stay with them.  It is around this time that Edith recognises she feels upset for ‘a few hours at a time’, with no real reason as to why.  She begins to record untruths in her diary, which is almost like a character in its own right in the novel.  After Cliffie is thrown out of his college entrance exams for trying to cheat, for example, Edith records that night that ‘he thinks he did pretty well…  If he gets an 80 average, he’ll go to – maybe Princeton.’  Immediately following this, she acknowledges her fictional entry to herself: ‘The entry was a lie.  But after all who was going to see it?  And she felt better, having written it, felt less melancholic, almost cheerful, in fact.’  Edith does not keep her diary regularly, and has written in it sporadically since she was a very young woman.  She tends to note only when a moment of crisis has occurred, or something which she wishes to remember.  The untruths become more frequent; worried by her son’s path in life, she invents a fiancee, and then a daughter, for him in her diary.

Time moves quickly in this novel, and often, several years have passed from one chapter to the next.  Edith’s home life begins to crumble, and many problems beset her.  Edith’s Diary is a great example of domestic noir.  The third person perspective which has been used throughout focuses primarily upon Edith, but also explores the private lives of her husband and son.  Edith’s Diary is not quite what I was expecting; I thought that the entirety would be told using diary extracts, but actually, relatively little is expressed in Edith’s own words.

The prose in the novel does tend to be a little matter-of-fact, and there is very little writing here which could be termed as beautiful.  That is, however, precisely the point.  The building of tension is apparent from almost the very beginning, and is well handled. Edith’s Diary was not as chilling as I was expecting it to be, but I found the character development believable.  The novel has definitely left me eager to read more of Highsmith’s work.

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‘The Lost Garden’ by Helen Humphreys *****

I had read and enjoyed two of Helen Humphreys’ books prior to picking up her quiet masterpiece, The Lost Garden.  This short novel, which is set in Devon in early 1941, is described variously as ‘a haunting story of love in a time of war’, and ‘both heartrending and heart-mending’.    In 1941, Humphreys writes, ‘the war seems endless and, perhaps, hopeless.’  The focus of her third novel is to explore the effects of war upon the population on the Home Front.

9780393324914The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Gwen Davies, is a horticulturalist.  She has moved from her London home, where she has been studying the effects of disease upon parsnips for the Royal Horticultural Society, in order to escape the Blitz.  She has volunteered for the Women’s Land Army, and finds herself travelling to a country estate named Mosel in a remote part of Devon, in order to lead a team of women gardeners.  Also billeted on the estate are a regiment of Canadian soldiers, who are awaiting orders to travel to the Front.  Of course, the paths of the women cross with various soldiers, but, says the blurb, ‘no one will be more changed by the stay than Gwen.  She falls in love with a soldier, finds her first deep friendship, and brings a hidden garden, created for a great love, back to life.’

From the first, Gwen is a fascinating character.  She is described as ‘shy and solitary’, and finds it difficult to move from her previous existence as a quiet, almost isolated scientist, to having to guide the ‘disparate group of young women’ whom she finds herself in charge of.  I immediately came to understand her thought process, and warmed to her instantly: ‘What can I say about love?  You might see me sitting in this taxi, bound for Paddington Station – a thirty-five-year-old woman with plain features – and you would think that I could not know anything of love.  But I am leaving London because of love.’  Gwen is immediately likeable; she details that she takes hardly any articles of clothing with her on her trip, knowing that a uniform will await her, but says: ‘my books are so many that it looks as though I am on my way to open a small lending library.’  There is such depth to Gwen; her worries and perceptions make her feel so realistic.

From the outset, Humphreys’ prose is both luminous and mesmerising.  The novel opens: ‘We step into lamplight and evening opening around us.  This felt moment.  Our brief selves.  Stars a white lace above the courtyard.’  The descriptions of Gwen’s adopted London home are poignant, particularly with regard to the devastation which war has already wreaked at this point in time.   As she passes once familiar sights in a taxi, Gwen muses: ‘The wild, lovely clutter of London.  Small streets that twisted like vines.  Austere stone cathedrals.  The fast, muddy muscle of the Thames, holding the city apart from itself…  I have stood beside the Thames and felt it there, twining beneath my feet like a root.’

As in her novel Coventry, Humphreys sparingly captures the atrocities of war, and the changing face of the city: ‘Houses became holes.  Solids became spaces.  Anything can disappear overnight.’  Humphreys’ writing is very human, particularly when she articulates the displacement which Gwen feels, with all of the sudden changes, and with such volatility around her: ‘I do not know how to reconcile myself to useless random death.  I do not know how to assimilate this much brutal change, or how to relearn this landscape that was once so familiar to me and is now different every day.  I cannot find my way back to my life when all my known landmarks are being removed.’

Juxtapositions quickly come into play when Gwen explores the peaceful Devon garden, which has been left uncared for for many years.  On her first foray into the garden, she observes: ‘There is the cheerful song of a bird in a tree by the garden well.  When was the last time I heard a bird in London?  Here, the war seems not to exist at all…  Was there a wold like this before the war?  A quiet world.  A slow garden.’  The descriptions continue in this sensual manner; for instance, Gwen touches, smells, and tastes the earth of the garden, whilst observing its red colour.

The Lost Garden has been well built, both culturally and socially.  On the day on which Gwen leaves London, for example, she spots a fellow train passenger’s newspaper, which has an article presuming that the missing author Virginia Woolf has been drowned in the River Ouse in Sussex.  We feel Gwen’s grief when her death is later announced – in fact, part of the novel reads like a love letter to Woolf – as well as her grief at the ways in which London has been lost to her.  The descriptions of war and loss here are often moving, as are those passages in which Gwen begins to come to terms with the war: ‘The thing with war is this – we cannot change ourselves enough to fit the shape of it.  We still want to dance and read.  We hang on to a domestic order.  Perhaps we hang on to it even more vigorously than before.’  Later, she says: ‘And I realize that we haven’t left our lives.  They have left us.  The known things in them.  The structure of our days.  All the bones of who we are have been removed from us.  We have been abandoned by the very facts of ourselves, by the soft weight of the old world.’

The Lost Garden is essentially a coming-of-age novel, with a protagonist a little older than one might expect to find in such a story.  There is a wisdom to Humphreys’ prose, and everything about it has been so well measured.  The story here feels simplistic on the face of it, but the writing is absolutely stunning, and I was immediately pulled in.  Gwen is an utterly realistic construct; she is flawed and unpredictable, and filled with a wealth of doubts and insecurities.  Other characters, too, are sharply defined, and have believable pasts which reflect upon their present lives.  The novel is gorgeously layered, and has been so well constructed.  The Lost Garden is a transporting novel, and one which I would urge everyone to read.

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‘The Human Stain’ by Philip Roth ****

The Human Stain (2000), which is the third novel in Philip Roth’s American Trilogy, is the first of his books which I have read.  It may sound odd to begin with the final book in a series, but the novel is a standalone one; together, the three books, which also include American Pastoral (1997) and I Married a Communist (1998), are said to make marked comments upon post-war American society and politics.

9780099282198The majority of reviews of The Human Stain, as indeed of Roth’s other novels, have been highly favourable.  The Mail on Sunday deems it a ‘novel with an almost Victorian range of scope and characters, all powered by one vast secret and a frenetic and exciting plot.’  The Sunday Telegraph calls it ‘an extraordinary book – bursting with rage, humming with ideas, full of dazzling sleights of hand.’

The novel is set in 1998, against the backdrop of Bill Clinton’s impeachment.  It ‘shows us an America where conflicting moralities and ideological divisions result in public denunciations and houndings, and where innocence is not always a good enough excuse.’  This was the summer in which, writes Roth, ‘… for the billionth time – the jumble, the mayhem, the mess proved itself more subtle than this one’s ideology and that one’s morality.  It was the summer when a president’s penis was on everyone’s mind, and life, in all its shameless impurity, once again confounded America.’

The protagonist of the piece is a retired college professor named Coleman Silk, and the novel is narrated by his neighbour, Nathan Zuckerman, who lives around the mountain in the Berkshires.  Coleman, a widower, is closely guarding a secret, which has always been hidden from his four grown children, and from his late wife.  ‘But,’ writes Roth, ‘it’s not the secret of his affair, at seventy-one, with a woman half his age.  And it’s not the secret of his alleged racism, which provoked the college witchhunt that cost him his job.  Coleman’s secret is deeper, and lies at the very core of who he is…’.  This claim of racism is an unfounded one, with a comment which he made taken out of context, and causing a college-wide furore.

The woman with whom Coleman is having an affair is a thirty-four-year-old janitor named Faunia Farley.  She works at Athena College, where he spent much of his career, first as a Classics lecturer, and then as Dean.  Faunia has had her fair share of tragedy, and exists as a complex character, hard to pinpoint.  Roth observes: ‘… whatever miseries she endured she kept concealed behind one of those inexpressive bone faces that hide nothing and bespeak an immense loneliness.’  Coleman, too, has the air of a composite and authentic being, particularly as the novel goes on.  Roth describes him variously as ‘an outgoing, sharp-witted, forcefully smooth big-city charmer, something of a warrior, something of an operator…’.  Some elements of his past feel a little problematic and unlikely, but taken as a whole, his backstory is largely a believable one, which gives weight and understanding to the decisions which he has made.

Nathan has had nothing whatsoever to do with Coleman, until the period directly after Coleman’s wife, Iris, passes away.  He knocks impatiently at Nathan’s door, demanding his help in penning his biography.  ‘I had to write something for him – he all but ordered me to,’ Nathan reflects.  ‘If he wrote the story in all of its absurdity, altering nothing, nobody would believe it, nobody would take it seriously, people would say it was a ludicrous lie, a self-serving exaggeration…  But if I wrote it, if a professional writer wrote it…’.  This decision has lasting consequences for Nathan; he says: ‘I did no more than find a friend, and all the world’s malice came rushing in.’

I found The Human Stain immediately compelling.  Roth’s writing style often feels a little complicated, or even overdone, but I very much admired the way in which he writes such extended sentences with a great deal of clarity.  This is not the kind of book to choose if you are looking for something easy to read, or a novel which you can pick up and put down after reading just a few pages.

By its very nature, The Human Stain deals with complex themes, threads of which run throughout the whole novel, connecting Coleman’s personal story with the wider context of academia, as well as with sexual, familial, and governmental politics.  Roth explores and captures facets of the human condition, taking into account a variety of varied characters and differing situations, with such insight.  His writing is shrewd and acerbic, and always interesting.  A real strength is the unpredictable and assertive dialogue which he crafts between characters, and the monologues which feature from time to time.  There is such a strength to his narrative throughout The Human Stain, and I definitely feel as though it was a good novel with which to begin reading his oeuvre.

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One From the Archive: ‘Mossy Trotter’ by Elizabeth Taylor ****

First published in 2015.

The 633rd book on Virago’s wonderful Modern Classics list is Elizabeth Taylor’s only book for children, Mossy Trotter.  First published in 1967, the new edition comes with lively Tony Ross illustrations, and an introduction written by Taylor’s son, Renny, who says: ‘… some of it is based on my childhood…  She must have made notes of  things that I got up to because you’ll read about some of my adventures in Mossy Trotter‘.

The blurb of Mossy Trotter – which has been praised by prolific children’s authors Jacqueline Wilson and Kate Saunders – says that within its pages, Taylor ‘perfectly captures the temptations and terrors of a mischievous boy – and just how illogical, frustrating and inconsistent adults are’.  It then goes on to compare the book to such classics as Richmal Crompton’s Just William, and Clive King’s Stig of the Dump

The premise of the book is almost Roald Dahl-esque, and it is sure to appeal to both adults and children: ‘When Mossy moves to the country, life is full of delights…  But every now and then his happiness is disturbed – chiefly by his mother’s meddling friend, Miss Silkin.  And a dreaded event casts a shadow over even the sunniest of days – being a page-boy at her wedding’.

Mossy is a curious, likeable and amusing child, whose inquisitiveness often gets the better of him, and leads him into sticky – sometimes quite literally – situations.  He is particularly fond of tar, and finds himself playing in it when the workmen have been, despite knowing that his mother will be cross with him: ‘… to begin with, he would stand in the tar-splashed grass at the side of the road; then he would drop a few stones on to the tar to see if they stuck; then he would put out his toe and prod an oozy patch, and in no time at all he was stamping in it, picking bits up and rolling them into rubbery balls, and his legs would be smeared, and so would his jeans and his shirt’.

An understanding Taylor bestows the role of confidante upon her young audience almost immediately: ‘Where things had been was what grown-ups worried about all the time.’  She outlines, in the tale’s very beginning, the vast differences which exist between children and adults.  The character of Miss Silkin opens proceedings by talking about her concept of paradise: ‘Standing where she was she could not possibly see the beautiful rubbish dump among the bracken.  This had been his private paradise from the moment he discovered it.  It was a shallow pit filled with broken treasures from which, sometimes, other treasures could be made…  If he could only find two old wheels, he could build himself a whole bicycle, he thought’.

I was reminded throughout of Astrid Lindgren’s charming Pippi LongstockingMossy Trotter feels almost as though it was written by the same author, just with a more masculine young audience in mind.  Mossy’s adventures, much like Pippi’s – a birthday party, a visit from his grandfather, and being a page boy, for example – are lovingly relayed by Taylor, and are certain to leave children wanting more.  The whole has been so well crafted, and interlinking tales wind through from one chapter to the next.  Mossy Trotter is rather a charming read, which is sure to drum up childhood nostalgia in the adults who come across it due to Virago’s reprint.

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The 1944 Club: ‘The Case of the Gilded Fly’ by Edmund Crispin ****

Hurrah!  I have finally been organised enough to be able to participate in one of the wonderful yearly clubs run by Simon and Karen.  The year which they have chosen for bloggers to read books from this week is 1944, and I was so pleased that I could read and review the first book in the Gervase Fen series, The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin, for the occasion.

9780099542131The Guardian praise Edmund Crispin’s series of crime novels as ‘a ludicrous literary farce’, and The Times call the author ‘one of the last exponents of the classical English detective story… elegant, literate, and funny.’  In this, the first novel in the series, a ‘pretty but spiteful young actress’ named Yseut Haskell, who has a ‘talent for destroying men’s lives’, is discovered dead in a University room ‘just metres from unconventional Oxford don Gervase Fen’s office.’  In rather an amusing aside, the blurb says: ‘Anyone who knew her would have shot her, but can Fen discover who could have shot her?’

The Case of the Gilded Fly begins in early 1940, in a typically British manner: ‘To the unwary traveller, Didcot signifies the imminence of his arrival at Oxford; to the more experienced, another half-hour at least of frustration.’  On such a railway journey is where we first meet English Language and Literature Professor Fen – ‘And as his only distraction was one of his own books, on the minor satirists of the eighteenth century, which he was conscientiously re-reading in order to recall what were his opinions of these persons, he became in the later stages of the journey quite profoundly unhappy’ – as well as the other protagonists.  This cast of characters is rather a diverse one.  After brief sketches of their personalities and professions, Crispin discusses them for the first time as a group: ‘By Thursday, 11 October, they were all in Oxford.  And within the week that followed three of those eleven died by violence.’

Crispin controls his writing and characters wonderfully.  The opening description of Yseut gives her character a complexity, and sets the reader – like her acquaintances – against her rather quickly.  Crispin writes: ‘To a considerable extent we are all of necessity preoccupied with ourselves, but with her the preoccupation was exclusive, and largely of a sexual nature into the bargain.  She was still young – twenty-five or so – with full breasts and hips a little crudely emphasized by the clothes she wore, and a head of magnificent and much cared-for red hair.  There, however – at least as far as the majority of people were concerned – her claims to attractiveness ended.  Her features, pretty enough in a conventional way, bore little hints of the character within – a trifle of selfishness, a trifle of conceit; her conversation was intellectually pretentious and empty; her attitude to the other sex was too outspokenly come-hither to please more than a very few of them, and her attitude to her own malicious and spiteful.’

The Case of the Gilded Fly is both intelligently written and highly immersive.  Whilst not my favourite in the Gervase Fen series – that accolade has to be given to the magnificent The Moving Toyshop – The Case of the Gilded Fly, whilst stylistically different in some ways, serves as a marvellous introduction to the series.  Crispin sets it up so that everyone has a grievance against Yseut, and the reader is consequently left guessing who could have perpetrated the crime, when all have a motive.

The sense of place here has been well captured, too, as well as the early Second World War time period in which it is set.  Crispin notes that the college admissions at Oxford University have been greatly affected, with many students going off to fight.  The blackout conditions are also in place when Yseut is murdered, which does not help matters; her death is first ruled as a suicide, until Fen and an Inspector from the local police force probe more deeply and discover several clues.  The novel does not throw up as many red herrings as I had come to expect from the later books in the series; it is more of a measured and meditative novel.  I did correctly guess one of the elements, but found it incredibly well pieced together nonetheless.

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Abandoned Books: ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ by Stephanie Perkins **

9781409579939I really enjoyed Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone Inside Your House, which I found unpredictable and taut. I have also enjoyed the short story anthologies which she has both edited and contributed to; the Christmas one in particular is lovely. Up until I picked up Anna and the French Kiss, I had largely avoided her Young Adult romance novels, largely because I do not often read YA as a genre, and I don’t enjoy fully-fledged romance stories, where the love interest is the only focus of the story. However, I chose to borrow this from my online library’s catalogue, as I was intrigued both by the very high ratings given by a lot of my Goodreads friends, and the quite hilarious one- and two-star reviews which I came across whilst wondering whether to read it. (Go and seek them out. They’re well worth a read.) I also wanted something easy to read whilst suffering with the ‘flu.

Paris, where this novel is set, is one of my favourite cities, and I have been lucky enough to visit a lot over the years. It is described only frugally, and becomes a secondary concern for Perkins almost from the get go. Anna, our named protagonist, is rather entitled. Despite having divorced parents, and living almost frugally with her mother, her father has become a bestselling novelist. He decides to send her from her home in Atlanta, Georgia, to live at a boarding school in Paris for a year, believing that the experience will be a great one for her.

Anna says, of his decision, that she is not ‘ungrateful’, but basically, she is. I did not like her as a character; she is spoilt and bratty, and just the kind of girl whom I did my best to avoid whilst I was at school. She is filled to the brim with cliched, and often quite horrid, views about France; she believes that everyone spends their spare time watching mime artists and eating ‘weird’ food, she wonders if French water is ‘even safe to drink’, and she is surprised when she sees a chef sporting a handlebar moustache, as she didn’t realise they had them ‘over here’. She calls herself a huge fan of cinema, and wants to be a film critic when she is older. She does not even realise that there are cinemas in France, one of the most influential countries in cinema. When she finally goes to these picture houses – many of which are very close to her school – she seeks out American movies, and refuses to watch any foreign films. She makes ridiculous comments throughout, and does not once act her age.

It is not just Anna who is a terrible character; those who surround her at school largely are too. At first they intrigued me, but after a while I wondered why I was even persevering with the novel. Her love interest, Etienne St. Clair, is a scruffy American citizen who has been brought up in London and thus speaks with an English accent; this baffles Anna at first. Rather than speak realistically, he has one of those BBC voices circa 1940. He says things like ‘Hallo’ and ‘come along’, which you hear quite rarely in twenty-first century London (trust me).

Anna and the French Kiss is a largely predictable novel. Whilst better written than some of the YA which I have encountered over the years, there is little about it that is intellectually stimulating – despite its Paris setting, which is largely overlooked – and I ended up feeling quite frustrated with it. I only got around a third of the way through the novel before giving up on it, but I could tell which direction it was going to go in from Anna and Etienne’s first meeting. It is full of cliches, and even a reference to my favourite film director, Wes Anderson, was not enough to save it for me. I hope that Perkins goes on to write another slasher novel in future, but this is a series of books which I will definitely be leaving alone.

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