Pete Davison: Book ‘Em, T and the MGs… No Wait, That’s Wrong

Posted on August 13, 2011 by

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I read a book over the course of the last couple of days. I like reading a lot, though I haven’t made a lot of time for it recently — it’s something you very much have to be in the right mood for, especially given the length of a lot of modern novels.

I’m glad that I’ve got back into it, though, and I have technology to thank for it — I have now officially read a whole eBook (or iBook if you want to be pedantic about it) on a portable device (my iPhone) and discovered that it’s a not altogether unpleasant experience. In fact, it’s actually rather convenient — it’s a lot easier to get comfortable when reading in bed holding a phone whose pages won’t flop all over the place or fall out if you lie in a weird position, lighting isn’t a problem with a backlit screen (unless you’re in the bright sunshine, but I generally prefer to read indoors) and, crucially, you don’t have to remember where you put the book down in order to carry on reading because you probably have your phone with you anyway. (It’s also nice to be able to see how many pages are left in a chapter without having to do that “flicking forward while carefully trying not to look at any of the words on the page in case there are OMG SPOILARZ on them” thing.)

The book I read was called Pandora’s Box by an author called Giselle Green. It was apparently the debut of this author, who has since been referred to as “the British Jodi Picoult”. I’ve heard Picoult’s name before but am not familiar with her work, so I was coming into this pretty blind, but the concept sounded intriguing, so I downloaded the sample (which turned out to be substantial enough to get me hooked, and then the full book was only 99p anyway) and got reading.

The story resolves around 40something mother Rachel and her 14 year old daughter Shelley. Rachel’s life is a bit of a mess — her husband’s left her, she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life and, most importantly, her daughter has a debilitating (and conveniently non-specific) disease that may or may not be something to do with MS. Despite this, she manages to remain upbeat and strong even in the most adverse conditions — her wheelchair-bound daughter, meanwhile, is mature, headstrong and stubborn.

Unfolding from the perspectives of both Rachel and Shelley, the story tells the tale of the days leading up to Shelley’s fifteenth birthday — the day Shelley has decided that she is going to take her own life in order to be free from the pain and suffering she witnessed a friend with the same condition go through a year earlier. It’s a tale based largely around characters, and Green creates some distinct, memorable personas to take us through the narrative. Rachel and Shelley themselves both have their own private issues which they let the reader — and sometimes no-one else — in on. But the supporting cast are strong too — Rachel’s obnoxious ex-husband being a particularly prominent example, being a character you really want to take a swing at at the first available opportunity.

It’s a real page-turner — the story unfolds at a good pace throughout, and each chapter is short enough to make you think “well, maybe I’ll just read on a bit…” before noticing that you’re actually halfway through the whole thing. It’s not perfect, of course; remaining spoiler-free, I’ll simply say that the ending is a little contrived, being made up of a series of events that are all a little too convenient given the realistic nature of the rest of the book. And the supposedly central theme — that of the titular “Pandora’s Box” (in this case being a box of knick-knacks and memories from Rachel’s eloping mother) and the Miseries within — is perhaps a little underused, or perhaps even inappropriate. Rachel is forced to come to terms with some past “evils” which had been left buried for many years, and Shelley is the catalyst for her eventual revelations, but the theme seems a little “forced” and I feel the story would have been better without this particular angle.

Minor gripes aside, the book was immensely enjoyable and I’m keen to have a look at Green’s other work — if this was her debut novel, perhaps she hones her craft to a finer point in her later titles. We shall see!

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Posted in: Pete Davison