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Not Working by Lisa Owens. Book Review

March 20, 2016

Not Working

Claire Flannery quits her job because she feels she needs to do more meaningful work. But now she’s having trouble finding it. Her family aren’t much help and her live-in neurosurgeon boyfriend is doing his best, but Claire is rapidly becoming her own personal island in a sea of humanity. As Claire’s life slowly unravels around her, it is up to Claire to sort herself out.

If you’re a writer this is the kind of book you wish you’d thought of first because the idea seems such a simple one. A kind of up-to-date Bridget Jones-style story told in episodes. But as you study the structure and quality of writing and you begin to realise Lisa Owens has created something quite remarkable.

Claire’s life is presented in episodes that mostly could be written (albeit in small handwriting) on a series of Post-it notes as pieces of flash fiction that stand up as stories in their own right. Even the chapter headings convey a significant narrative. That is because every word in the book is made to work very hard as the author delivers precision descriptions of Claire’s minute observations of her life.

Being able to read Claire’s story in short bursts was ideal, because it was possible to enjoy Not Working a slice at a time and relish the narrative technique employed as well as the wonderfully rendered scenes (as you would a delicious meal). This way of telling a story really immerses the reader in a character’s world. Although delivered in episodes, these snapshots clearly accumulate into a very cleverly constructed story arc. Tracking Claire’s movements and inner thoughts (done through character action and dialogue, rather than tracts of verbose angst) made me frequently laugh out loud, then feel such concern I wanted to pick up the phone and offer the type of support Claire’s annoyingly selfish mother so willfully withholds.

There is terrific energy to Claire’s narrative, giving it a great pace, with many of the episodes hitting home like an emotional bomb going off. However, this is a style which, if not carefully considered, can overwhelm a reader by sheer force. But this never comes to pass, because there is also a delicacy to the way Claire negotiates her relationships with the significant people in her world (her mother and neurosurgeon live-in boyfriend) and strives to get her life back on track.

Not Working is certainly a ‘left field’ kind of book that on the surface appears chick lit, but surprises by carrying a considerable amount of substance and style, as well as an excellent read.

Not Working was courtesy of Picador via NetGalley.

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