Not Working by Lisa Owens
Published: June 15th 2017 by Picador (Pan Macmillan)
Genres: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Humour
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I received a copy of this book for free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Now and again we all lie awake wondering what on earth we’re doing with our lives… don’t we? Claire Flannery has had more than a few sleepless nights lately. Maybe she shouldn’t have walked out of her job with no idea what to do next. Maybe she should think before she speaks — and maybe then her mother would start returning her calls. Maybe she should be spending more time going to art galleries, or reading up on current affairs, and less time in her pyjamas, entering competitions on the internet. Then again, maybe the perfect solution to life’s problems only arises when you stop looking for it…
This book really wasn’t my cup of tea at all. I have a bit of a mishmash of thoughts so I decided to scrap my usual pros vs. cons format and just talk about my general thoughts.
Overall, this book feels like a cheaper, less funny version of Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. The main character, Claire, is a carbon copy of Becky Bloomwood, albeit less kindhearted and more cold. Even some of the names of characters are the same or similar. This book doesn’t have much of a storyline either – it follows Claire through her everyday life as she searches for her place in the world, something that will make her feel fulfilled. Pretty much all we see are meaningless snapshots of her life that add nothing to the story.
There are a few subplots (which seems like the wrong word, since there’s no main plot, but anyway) that I suppose are there to show us a different side of Claire, but it really doesn’t; it just makes things even more uncomfortable. One of the subplots revolves around her grandfather and an incident that happened when Claire was 11 (trigger warning for possible sexual abuse; it’s very ambiguous and never gets resolved, rather it’s treated as an amusing and witty plot device), and as a result, Claire’s mother is not speaking to her. It was silly and awkward and pointless.
Claire is a bit dull; in fact, she’s about as interesting as a piece of cardboard. She comes off as selfish, insecure, entitled, careless, and wishy-washy. All she does is complain about her life, when in fact she’s incredibly privileged: she owns (yes, OWNS; she mustn’t buy avocados) a flat in London, she has been in a stable relationship for seven years, she has a network of supportive, caring friends, and she has the privilege of quitting her job to “find herself”. She’s the type of jumped-up yuppie who gives people of our generation a bad name. She’s also very inconsiderate and self-absorbed. An example:
Over breakfast, Luke idly drops a bombshell, claiming the mirrors in the gym changing rooms are warped to flatter the beholder.
‘But why would they make you look thinner?’ I ask, dropping my spoon in a panic that the wide reflection I’d dismissed only yesterday as grotesquely distorted might in fact have been slimmed down, and therefore several degrees more forgiving than the reality.
‘To make your workout seem immediately effective,’he says. ‘You see results, you keep coming back.’
‘No, no, that doesn’t make sense. If you look fatter, you’ll keep coming back, to lose weight. If you look thinner, you’ll quit: job done.’
‘Shit.’ His eyes zigzag across his laptop screen. ‘There’s been a massive earthquake in Chile. Three thousand deaths and rising.’
‘Oh my God. That’s terrible.’ I allow enough seconds to pass, stirring my porridge. ‘Maybe . . . maybe it’s different for men and women. The men’s changing-room ones make them look thinner, and the women’s ones fatter.’
‘We should donate,’ Luke says, tapping quickly, so I shelve the subject, pending further investigation.
I’m sorry, but what? She hears about an earthquake that killed 3,000 people, and she waits a few seconds so she can continue her frivolous conversation? With a doctor? Pass.
Speaking of Luke, he has no substance through the eyes of Claire, and seems to be there as an extra character with whom Claire can interact. She blames him for everything and it seems to be very much him taking care of her, rather than a mutual understanding between two independent adults. I could feel his frustration with her, but he always came around and let her off the hook and I found him to be a bit of a pushover. The rest of the characters (including Claire’s parents, grandmother, and friends) are all bland stereotypes. I assumed Claire would improve as a person and learn something by the end of the book, but nope.
The style of this book could have been great if the content weren’t so boring and tedious and pointless. I love trying out new formats and this was a promising idea that was badly executed. I found myself waiting to finish the book, because it just was not working for me at all. (See what I did there?)
Rating: This could have scraped a 2.5 stars from me, but after taking the sexual abuse plot device and the incident with the Chilean earthquake into account, I’m going to be harsh and give it 1 star.
Recommended for: I don’t recommend this book.
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