It’s just as well I’m not one of those readers who likes to draw conclusions about writers’ lives from their writing, because if I were I’d be seriously concerned about Toni Jordan. You see, her latest novel, Fall girl, is about a con-artist, a very experienced one in fact. And Jordan writes so convincingly you’d almost think … ah, but we’re not going there, are we!
Now, Toni Jordan writes chick lit, but it’s chick lit with a difference. The heroine of her first novel, Addition (which I reviewed earlier in this blog’s history) has obsessive compulsive disorder and at the start of the novel is almost a recluse. She is not, in other words, your typical chick lit heroine. And so it also is with Fall girl‘s heroine, Della. She too is a little off-the chick-lit-beaten track. She is:
- not in normal employment;
- not really upwardly mobile (as her family lives in a dilapidated mansion, and tends to spend up big “wins” rather than using the money to improve their lifestyle);
- not focused on fashion and appearance (though she does prefer to dress well); and
- not looking for a husband (though of course this being chick lit, romance does rear its head).
The hero, Daniel Metcalf, however, is somewhat more typical: “he looks like a model from an adventure store catalogue”. He is tanned, strong, big and muscled, and there is a little nod, I think, to Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy in him. But there is also a bit of a mystery about him that our heroine needs to resolve if she is to succeed in this, her biggest “sting” by far.
What can I say about it? It’s a fun read. The plotting and characterisation are good. It’s told first person, in a mostly light tone, but there is light and dark, as not everything runs smoothly (of course). There are some lovely comic scenes – particularly during the scientific expedition on which Della (aka Dr Ella Canfield) takes her mark, Daniel, to demonstrate how professionally his grant money will be spent. Without giving anything away, the resolution is in keeping with chick lit without being completely, neatly tied up.
Is there anything else to it? The writing is good – in a traditional, straightforward way – and the structure is generally chronological, with the odd flashback to fill in Della’s family background. It drips with irony, but in a light-hearted, rather tongue-in-cheek way. Jordan knows that we know the conventions of the genres – of both chick lit and the con – and plays them to effect. We read, and we smile, not grimace. But, there is something else here too, something besides the chick lit and the con story, and that is a coming-of-age story. Not the traditional adolescent story, but we discover as the novel wears on that twenty-something Della has not really achieved self-determination. Everything she does is in accord with her training and her father’s “rules”. Towards the end of the book, her stepmother Ruby talks to her about her upbringing in the family and her inculcation into its “business”, and says:
What you choose to believe is up to you, Della. You don’t have to listen to anybody. You have to make up your own mind.
But, of course, being a Jordan novel, it’s not typical “coming-of-age” either and what Della decides is part of the fun of the ending.
This is a light, entertaining read – and yet it’s not lacking in things for readers to think about. In fact, it’s just the right sort of read for the Christmas holidays. Lisa at ANZLitLovers would probably agree – but go check her review for yourself.
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2010
(Review copy supplied by Text Publishing)