BOOK REVIEW / One slice or two?: A working mother - Agnes Owens: Bloomsbury pounds 9.99
Saturday 02 July 1994
Betty, the narrator, and her husband Adam can only stand each other with a bottle between them; they can barely muster the strength and venom required for a good argument. Instead, they squabble, their intense hatred lightly spooned by the author as dressing on casual conversation: ' 'Yes, darling,' I said in tones of loathing. 'Do you want one slice of toast, or two?' '
Betty fell in love with Adam, the war hero; but wars become wearisome subjects, like just about everything else in this book. The flippant tone discourages deep analysis, and excuses the author from the responsibility of providing plausible motives: for Betty's quickie affair with Adam's best friend, for example. 'You don't perform very well, do you?' Betty suddenly remarks to Brendan as he zips up following one unmoving encounter. Yet, elsewhere, in a few brief brush-strokes, the reader is given to understand that Betty fancies him like mad. Conceivable, but not terrifically convincing.
A little assembly of small-time eccentrics provide a standard quirkiness; Mrs Rossi, the employment agent, tells fortunes on the side, while Betty's employer Mr Robson takes an interest in her, beyond the call of duty. (There is something decidedly unweird in the fact that he is working on a book called The Study of Human Behaviour in Animals.) When he takes Betty home for extra typing duties, his advances don't aspire beyond masturbation behind a curtain, as Betty sits obediently on the bed. Her subsequent thought is equally indifferent: 'as I wasn't involved in this I considered I had been let off lightly.' This scene provides a suitable analogy for the reader's general involvement with Betty's new job, and with the men in her life. 'I've never taken up with anybody who is anywhere near rational,' she announces.
Betty and Adam, practised at inducing a false, tipsy happiness, seem incapable of sustaining a calm co-existence. Owens's hard- edged tone never falters, even during a rare moment of peace, when Adam and Betty are lying in bed: ' 'I suppose I'm difficult to live with. It's not been easy for you,' he said. 'It's not been easy for you either.' Our voices sounded wooden, like the first stages of a prayer meeting.'
Although snatches of mundanity make for dark humour, Owens's abbreviated, limited style is no less unreal than an overblown lyricism. The dialogue hardly pauses to allow for any description, making the book as spare as a play. The studiously reduced stock of throwaway lines are sharp, often funny and sad, but lacking an intensity of spirit.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 3 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 4 London restaurant 34 creates champagne glass modelled on Kate Moss’ left breast
- 5 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
American film board gives gay film Love Is Strange R-rating despite no sex or violence
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians