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.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine