According to Yes, by Dawn French - book review: Affirmative action from French

Michael Joseph, £20

Alice Jones@alicevjones
Thursday 15 October 2015 13:57
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Dawn French
Dawn French

This is dawn french’s third novel, and with the good timing one might expect of a comedian, it is released next week just as the Christmas gift guides are compiled. Its heroine is Rosie Kitto, a character who is exactly like her name sounds – a jolly, curvy gal in her late thirties who wears red brogues and big, floppy bows (“askew”, naturally) on her head. She is a “megawatt optimist”, “a great believer in ‘find the funny side’, ‘keep yer perk up’” and “thinks it a crime to pass an ice-cream fridge without giving a home to a tub or two.” Think the vicar of Dibley, without the dog collar.

If this is the kind of ceaselessly chirpy character that gets your cynic’s heckles up, you might struggle with this book. That is not to say that Kitto – not just a primary school teacher but “most popular year two teacher four years in a row” – doesn’t have a darker, or at least less PG side. Following a break-up and the fact that she has been unable to have the baby she so viscerally wants, she elects to spend a year saying “YES YES YES PLEASE” to everything (hence the title), starting with a nannying job in New York and taking in quite a lot of joyous, fleshy, no-holds-barred sex along the way. YES YES YES indeed.

So it is that Rosie ends up at the Wilder-Binghams on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, like a colourful, Cornish fish out of water. Her charges are twin boys, the adorable victims of a nasty divorce; her boss is Grandma Glenn who is her polar opposite – chilly, thin, ordered, never wears a bow on her head, askew or otherwise. She is 78, going on 120, “already dead” inside and rules her household with a gimlet eye. They include Glenn’s priapic teenage grandson, her alcoholic mummy’s boy of a son, Kemble, who is coping badly with the divorce, her husband, who is haunted by death but still has a twinkle in his eye and a Polish maid called Iva, who serves cabbage.

It starts predictably enough, then. French can spin a yarn but she has a tendency to shoehorn in too much New York detail and over-egg sentences, which makes the book 365 pages long when it ought to be 250.

“The journey to the library takes longer than you would think it was possible to walk in an apartment, giving Rosie an inkling of its sheer size”, for example. It’s not particularly funny, either: Rosie’s exploits with the twins and her constant wisecracks are more irritating than amusing.

It gets going in part two, in which Rosie establishes herself firmly as one of the family. How she goes about this is the main surprise of the book: put it this way, she doesn’t say “no” very often.

It’s a bold plotting move, which sets According to YES apart from the usual chick-lit template, but the resolution of the family’s implosion, from which Rosie emerges without a bruise on her, stretches all credibility. If only French had had the courage to make her heroine a little less relentlessly likeable.

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