Thursday, February 16, 2017

Not Working by Lisa Owens

I had hoped my foray back into the world of reviewing novels would cover a novel I loved, but we simply don't always get what we want out of life...much like our main character in Not Working, a novel by Lisa Owens.

I received this novel from a friend who did note that it was not for her, but she thought I'd like to give it a go. The premise is sound - Claire doesn't like her job so she quits. I mean - wouldn't we all enjoy a moment of that freedom?

And then it goes a bit "south" for me. She quits with no prospects. Because she wants to find herself. Do something meaningful. Although she doesn't know what that means. And then there's the weird fallout with her mother (that I never quite understood). And her horrible treatment of Luke, her very patient boyfriend. And her whiny, incessant, mind-boggling behavior.

Maybe that says something about the writing - that Ms. Owens has the ability to make me truly despise a character. There's nothing in literature that says a novel or character must be "likable" to be interesting. Much like Daisy Buchanan - we probably aren't supposed to like Claire. So if that was Ms. Owens's goal - she receives a resounding FIVE cups of coffee from me.

☕☕☕☕☕ (yeah...coffee!!)

But that wasn't enough. A character doesn't necessarily need to be loved, but there should be something redeeming about her (Daisy was charming, albeit unrelatable to us "peons"). She's a terrible daughter, friend, employee, lover - it seems all she really does well is complain. That is not a quality worth appreciating. Or is it? She does it with such gusto and complete disregard for anyone around her (insert poor Polly and Will towards the end of the novel...granted, Will's a touch of a moron, but still...) that it does command some respect "that makes calamity of so long life."

There are funny moments in Claire's onslaught of life told in short sketches of her days - like her obsession with the weird plant growing out of the side of their building, or her feeble attempts to be a good granddaughter, selfish as they might be - but they aren't enough for me to see the true humor in Claire's unemployment or her search for a destiny that matters to others; she's so truly disillusioned with her own idea to make a difference that she can't see her own character doesn't possess this quality. Her quick wit and cunning comebacks are sporting, but lose their slice in a woman that is so childish and entitled. It had potential, but fails (maybe like Claire?).

Overall, I can't recommend this book for it's plot, but the writing is actually quite good - a conundrum, I know. I think Lisa Owens has a cheeky quality that could lend itself to better humor in a situation that doesn't make the reader want to reach through the flesh and ink and throttle the protagonist. It had too much of a "millennial" effect for me: a society of self-absorbed, selfie-taking, handout-reaching, work-for-nothing, I'm-fabulous, love-me-for-me generation (I do offend here, I know - and I want to say I'm sorry, but the truth is I'm not. Stop it. Get a job. Pay your dues. Suck it up.).

This novel does demonstrate what happens to the human mind when it's not engaged in any sort of real task or reality. It apparently turns to mush. Claire's personality, while annoying, is something we've all seen either in ourselves at some time or a friend - we all know someone like Claire; people incapable of making decisions, bucking up, or powering through, and so they just suck the life out of everyone around them in their tiny world of uncertainty. They constantly ask the overwhelming question:

...that follow[s] like a tedious argument 
Of insidious intent 
To lead you to an overwhelming question ... 
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?"

and never answer it. For this - I give her kudos. I get it. 

I give her three coffee cups ☕☕☕ (and two glasses of wine 🍷🍷 - you'll need both).

Lisa Owens was born in 1985, and is a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. She worked in publishing for six years, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. NOT WORKING is her first novel. She lives in London.


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