Books: The loins, the wimps and the wardrobe

TELL HER THAT YOU LOVE HER by Bridget O'Connor Picador pounds 6.99

If I was going to meet Bridget O'Connor, I'd worry for days about what to wear. She is obsessed with clothes and refuses to sidestep the ineluctable truth that we are defined by our appearance. Many writers, especially women, shy away from too many details on what their characters are wearing for fear of being branded superficial or frivolous, but with the zeal that most people reserve only for food or sex, O'Connor storms in full-on, slavering: "A mauve Donna Karen sheath dress ... pounds 595. She touched it all day, reverently slipped her hand in for its cool inside, the frisson it gave her palm ... as though someone were about to lift up her hair, shiver- kiss her neck."

In the first story, "Lenka's Wardrobe", the firm friendship between two friends is threatened by the arrival of Lenka, or, more specifically, her clothes: "I was surfing in a kind of ambient trance ... my hands sunk deep into a snakeskin bra, 38E, my size. Sinead's hands wore, I saw, baby- blue llama shoes, my size ... monkey, tiger, zebra, lemur ... Well, we ain't vegetarians ... We ran round the house screaming FUUUURRRR!"

Each of these brilliantly funny stories offers a glimpse into private obsessions. All her characters are motivated by the desire for transmogrification: everyone wants to be someone or something else. They all have not so much a tragic flaw as a tragic foible. O'Connor's men tend towards the harmless

ineffectual wimp, whereas her women are feisty Amazons. Helen, a collector of broken hearts, is outraged when she hears that her ex-lover is with another: "Lovers were plentiful, but it was always she who ... left them broken-hearted. Not once, she repeated this, not once had they lived to love again." Helen sets off on a vengeful journey to win him back, but not before doing the essential: drastically dyeing her hair and kitting "herself out in a new style - a black woollen dress, pink ballet pumps." To O'Connor, love is not the desire for another but the desire for self- metamorphosis.

Nicola works in a building society's "Enquiries (General)", not because she's thick but because she has "a generally enquiring mind". She is the most likeable of O'Connor's women. How can you not like someone who tells you, in all seriousness, "I have worn, for instance, full foundation, toe and nail-polish since I was 13"? Nicola has a photographic memory and between applying nail varnish and responding to general enquiries ("(a) How long does a cheque take to clear?, and (b) Have we a public convenience in the near vicinity?") she rehearses encyclopedic facts ("Was Julius Caesar assassinated in 44BC or 45BC?) and wonders when she will "find that special place where I will shine."

There is the occasional slippage: when O'Connor tries too hard at comedy or when her characters are too well-meaning - it's unconscious offensiveness that is her forte - but to take issue with that would be petty. There is only really one thing to say: put on your gladdest rags and go out and buy it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
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.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits