Books: Do their brains look big in this?

Onwards and Upwards by Arabella Weir Penguin pounds 12.99
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The Independent Culture
Three girls meet on the first day at secondary school: Bert, Tess and Vicky. They are three very different types, which is very helpful as the reader can tell them apart easily. They become firm friends. They struggle through school. They grow up. They start work. They drink lots of wine. They smoke dope. They flail around in relationships. They swear and laugh a lot. If any of them is being particularly pompous or serious, the other two jeer "Oooh, machwuuurre!" Sometimes they fall out for a while. Then they make up. Sometimes things go well for them. Sometimes things don't go so well. One of them becomes a teen mum. One of them finds she is a lesbian. One of them gets married. At the end of the book they are all Taking Stock and they note that they have all done pretty well, all things considered, though no-one's life is perfect. And, um, that's it.

This is one of those books where nothing much happens in the way of plot, but the reader is meant to gain some insight into their own lives through this glance into someone else's. When this is well done, it can be immensely powerful. Sadly, the trio of Bert, Tess and Vicky (Bouncy, Tedious and Vapid respectively) just don't engage much sympathy, let alone empathy. All their parents are divorced, in a decade where divorce was less common than it is now, but we don't hear much about the effects of this on any of them, except in the most general terms. Bert is the naughtiest girl in the school (yawn) with an embarrassing hippy mother; at first it looks as though she's stymied her chances in life by having a baby at 19 but the other two rally round and help. Vicky is the pretty one who attracts the boys but ends up marrying the wrong man, though the other two rally round and help. Tess is the quiet one the others keep trying to rally round and help, until she suddenly goes on an evening course, emerges from her chrysalis as a glamorous lipstick lesbian and becomes a Hollywood scriptwriter (as so often happens).

Onwards and Upwards will be a best-seller because there seems to be an insatiable appetite at the moment for perky fiction written by young women, and this is another of that ilk. As an easy, untaxing read with plenty of humour it succeeds perfectly and it will shift in huge quantities, especially when it comes out in handbag-sized paperback. "If you've ever been mortified by anything you wore as a teenager, got off with someone you didn't really fancy just to keep up with your mates, or wondered how on earth you ended up being the person you are now - then this is the book for you," chirps the cover blurb. If any of these tepid issues really still loom large in your life or remain unresolved for you, you are a pretty sad case, frankly. Don't look for any insights here.

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