BOOK REVIEW / One slice or two?: A working mother - Agnes Owens: Bloomsbury pounds 9.99

WASTING NO time, this novel pitches headlong into marital dialogue of the most dreary kind: ' 'I'll have to get a job,' I said. My husband replied: 'To get away from me, I suppose.' 'We owe money. The kids need clothes, apart from the fact that we like to eat.' 'Do what you like. I'm tired of carrying you all.' 'You are tired of carrying yourself.' ' The no-frills style is meant to be funny, and quite a lot of it is.

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series