Thursday, 13 November 2014

Oh Dear Silvia

Oh Dear Silvia
Dawn French
London, Penguin, 2013, 432p

Whilst on holiday for half term, having finished Gone Girl far more quickly than I had anticipated, panic began to set in that I would not have enough books to last me the week. Luckily, the wonderful hostel I was in - Ani & Haakien in Rotterdam - had a book swap, so after skimming through a few, I swapped Gillian Flynn for Dawn French, and found a story that had an uncanny number of similarities to it's predecessor. 

Silvia is in a coma. It appears she fell from her balcony, and she is visited regularly by her friend, sister, ex-husband and nurse. Each visit brings with it a one sided conversation - Ed talks about their separation, his resulting depression, and his eventual recovery through his love of nature. Jo, the eccentric older sister, causes mayhem through the ward with her non-traditional methods to try and bring Silvia back to consciousness. And Winnie watches over Silvia every day, trying to offer comfort and nurse her back to health. 

It would appear that Silvia has changed greatly in recent years, and there is some resentment held by her family towards her new friend, Cat. Silvia has aggressively distanced herself from her family, leaving her son, daughter and granddaughter feeling angry and confused. Cassie struggles to find the confidence to visit her mother, whilst Jamie remains in Afghanistan, refusing to come home. 

But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this change was the result of a minor, regrettable incident, in which Silvia irreparably ruined her chances of a normal family life. 

This makes the novel sound far darker than it actually is. Oh Dear Silvia is an easy read, and has an optimistic tone. And yet it explores some complex ideas about family and relationships, especially around forgiveness. I was impressed by Dawn French's accessibility and the fullness of her story - what a great transformation from comedian to novelist. 

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