I really enjoy Caroline O’Donoghue’s writing for The Pool so when I heard she had a book out I was keen to have a read. Not to judge a book by its cover, but when it arrived, it was covered in quotes of praise from writers I love like Daisy Buchanan and Marian Keyes, who I’d just listened to on an episode of Dolly Alderton’s podcast, Love Stories.
The novel explores themes of gender, office politics and power. It tells the story of Jane, a woman in her twenties working in a junior role in marketing, who goes through a messy breakup and, vulnerable, falls into a relationship with a much senior, married colleague. Jane is also an anonymous online agony aunt with a following, and when she goes off the rails she writes short blog posts on the site half asleep, creating a lot of speculation and attracting media attention. Things certainly spiral, and she goes on a dark journey, losing weight, cutting herself off from her mum, consumed by her relationship.
The opening describes Jane, numb after the breakup, going into work on her birthday, where she receives an awkward delivery of Happy Birthday by her colleagues.
I really liked O’Donoghue’s prose style, and the way the text is peppered with really nice techniques and similes that give it a distinct narrative voice. Just as an example of many, when a man stands in the way of her view of Clem, her married boss and his wife having lunch, she writes ‘I wafted him away as if he was standing in front of the TV’. The blend of humour and observations of very everyday things was an aspect I really enjoyed.
The characters are fully fleshed, from her stern new housemate, Shiraz, to her calm, successful colleague, Deb, who delivers Jane a great pep talk while she sorts out the protagonist’s makeup in a train toilet on the way a work presentation. A standout character for me was Jane’s work colleague, Becky, plagued by nerves at work, who turns out to be a very loyal friend.
The gripping storyline meant that I found myself really looking forward to reading it, and on a weekend that involved two megabus journeys and a lot of World Cup football games, it was the perfect distraction.