Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Review Post 24 - Not Bridget Jones' Diary

It's a funny thing, the internet. It lets you do all kinds of things you never thought you would (or thought you could), connects you with people you've never met, and probably never will, allows you to do things in ways you hadn't previously considered. It also contains a lot of rubbish, but then, none of us are perfect, are we?

The reason for this little bout of navel gazing is the recent conclusion to a novel I have been following via blog - yes, blog! Fiona Robyn's novel Thaw follows Ruth, a thirty-two year old English woman who, disappointed by life, is wondering if it might be time to leave it all behind. The reader is allowed to peruse her diary, one day at a time, starting on the 1st of March and ending on the 31st of May - when she finally decides whether life is worth living or not.

Ruth comes across as fragile, distant and slightly damaged, someone too slight to bear the weight of the world. She has cocooned herself off from the outside world, hiding herself in her work and her thoughts. Then, one day, seeking a portrait of herself as a present for her father, she visits Red, an enigmatic Russian painter and begins to sit for him. And things slowly start to change...

Some of you may now be mentally filing this story under Mills and Boon, but I assure you that this is not the case. Far from being her perfect Prince Charming, Red is just the first of several people Ruth lets into her life during her three months of indecision. She reconnects with a family member, takes a colleague under her wing and makes new friends who help her to step outside her stagnant persona and try something new. And yet, thankfully, the hurt does not just disappear (that would have been a little too easy); Ruth still swings between happiness and self-loathing, unable to exorcise her demons fully - and the clock on her self-imposed deadline is always ticking...

Fiona reveals Ruth slowly and delicately over the course of the book, allowing us to learn about her past and personality one piece (and one day) at a time. The tone is generally quite mellow and drifting, but interspersed with the occasional grating, painful (intentional) mischord as Ruth acts differently to how we were expecting - or how we were hoping. Warning - some entries made me wince.

The presentation of the novel as a diary worked wonderfully in the blog format, allowing the reader to follow the action in real time (which, on at least one occasion was both confusing and frustrating!). The gradual approach of the 31st of May allowed the tension to steadily build, and I found myself checking more and more often for the latest update over the final couple of weeks. In fact, I'm not sure that the story would have had quite the same impact if I had been able to read it at my own pace.

However, one disadvantage that I found of the delivery was that my reading of blog posts is not as detailed and concentrated as when I settle down in a comfy chair and spend time with a quality book. I tended, especially towards the start of the novel, to peruse the post quite mechanically, scanning for important events and ignoring some of the more descriptive writing. I suspect that reading the paper version, especially as a reread, would be very different .

Still, it was a very enjoyable experience, and I am extremely grateful to Fiona for entertaining and delighting us for the past three months. Please do check out the site, and, if you like what you read, the old-fashioned paper version is available at the Book Depository with free postage worldwide (something which, living in Australia, I am eternally grateful for).

On the whole, this is a book well worth reading, and I would recommend Thaw to anyone who enjoys reading about people who can't quite bring themselves to face the world with confidence. By the way, I'm not going to tell you what Ruth decides in the end; you'll just have to find out for yourselves...