Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Book review: "Toppling Miss April", by Adrienne Dines.

Earlier in the year I had the joy of being taught for a day by Adrienne Dines, as part of a creative writing course at the Winchester Writers' Conference. As a result of this, I bought two of her books - 'The Jigsaw Maker' and 'Toppling Miss April'. I read the former months ago, but have only recently got around to reading 'Toppling Miss April' this weekend.

Firstly, let me say that this book is a very good read. It is unusual for a book to get me laughing out loud, but, in places, this book was uproariously funny. it is also fairly addictive; I completed it easily within a couple of days of starting it, and with other work interrupting. It is a light, easy read.

The plot revolves around two late-middle aged women; Bernadette, a cleaner for an Irish priest, very prim and proper, with an 18-year old nephew to look after, and Monica, a large, indeed, very large, jovial woman. When Monica comes back to the sleepy Irish village of Tullabeg, a rivalry starts between her and Bernadette that reveals secrets about all their pasts.

Both Monica and Bernadette are superbly-written characters. Bernadette in particular is a grotesque, awful creature, petty, vindictive and, frankly, not a little mad. Monica is large, both in physical size, character and appetites. The supporting cast of characters - Michael, the shy ijeet obsessed with a girl at the local Supasave, the hapless priest, Sean, and his gay brother, Cormac - all add delicious aspects to the story.

The place that Mrs Dines really scores is with her characterisations. All of the characters are flawed, some in more ways than others, but the flaws are, like Monica, marvellously enlarged. Take Bernadatte - it would be easy to say that her character is over-exaggerated, but I can too easily believe that such women (and men) exist.

The plot is probably best characterised as a farce, with misunderstandings and misdirections being used to move the story along. Some of the major plot points and twists were fairly obvious, but I think that they may have been intentionally so; they inform the reader something about the past of the characters that makes their confusion even more dramatic and funny.

This is not a book that was written for male readers - it is published by Transita, 'Good books for grown women', but despite this I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

I give it four out of five stars.

1 comment:

Adrienne Dines said...

Thanks for your comments, David, it's nice to get a male perspective.
Now, what about your own writing??