Anna Funder, Everything precious (Review)

Anna Funder, Everything preciousI must thank John aka Musings of a Literary Dilettante for introducing me to this intriguing little e-work by Miles Franklin award-winner, Anna Funder. When John read it, back in October, it was in daily instalments, but when I clicked the link in his post I was offered several e-book versions, including for the Kindle and iPad, or for an audiobook which I believe is read by Funder. It’s free.

So, what is it? Here’s the description at the start of the story:

This story is a unique collaboration between Paspaley, acclaimed author Anna Funder, photographer Derek Henderson and award-winning actress Teresa Palmer. It’s an original story of love, self and all things precious, featuring the most beautiful pearls in the world.

Paspaley, for those who don’t know, is an Australian-based company founded in the pearling industry of northwestern Australia. Although it has now diversified into other businesses, it is probably still best known for its pearling arm. As you might assume from the title of Funder’s story, “Everything precious”, it is the pearling arm that sponsored Funder. John wrote his post before he finished reading the story, and said he feared finding some product placement at the end. However, in a postscript added later, he advised there was no such thing. He’s right – in a sense – as there’s no reference to pearls or Paspaley in the text. But, in my e-book version, between chapters 4 and 5, there is a series of five photographs taken presumably by Derek Henderson and featuring, again presumably, actor Teresa Palmer. They are tasteful in that high-class-magazine way … no text, just beautiful images of a lovely woman wearing gorgeous pearls.

I researched a little more, and discovered that the story is part of a “multi-channel campaign” to launch Paspaley’s new Touchstone collection. The “campaign uses storytelling to engage a new, younger, more fashion conscious audience and make pearls relevant and appealing to them”. Intriguing eh! I wonder how successful it’s been?

What, besides presumably money, did it all mean for Anna Funder? Here’s what she says:

Working with Paspaley has been one of the most exciting writing experiences I’ve had. To have total creative freedom, a time limit and an audience turn out to be the perfect conditions for writing a short story. And the idea that a company, which makes things of great beauty and value from nature, values literature, which (on a good day) is also something of beauty and value that reflects the world around us, was inspiring. Writing this story has been a joy and a privilege, and was some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing.

Now, let’s talk about the story, which the promoter’s website I’ve linked to above describes as “a short story of desire, need, love and all that is precious”. The plot is pretty simple. It’s about Tess, who works in online legal publishing, and would be in her mid thirties. She has a husband, Dan, head of epidemiology in the State Health Department and a lovely SNAG if ever there was one, and three children, Charlotte who is 13, and the twins, Tom and Lorna, who are 6. She also has a father, Howard, a retired judge who is in Assisted Living because he has dementia. This is, then, an upper middle class, professional family. Tess and Dan have been together for 17 years and she’s feeling a little trapped and restless. A bit of a midlife crisis, in other words, or, as Funder writes in the story, Tess is:

at a hinge moment: between youth and age, between the life you thought you wanted and the one you feel might, now, suit you better.

So, Tess decides to consider that other life she might have had, but … well, I won’t give the ending away because it’s easy for you to access at Paspaley.

It’s interesting to look at this story in terms of the campaign because I’m presuming that although Funder had “total creative freedom” there must have been a brief – one that at the very least identified a target market, oops audience, for the story. This audience would, I’m sure, identify pretty easily with the character and set up, with the restlessness attended by guilt that she should be so restless. The brief must surely have identified a tone too. You wouldn’t sell pearls with a grim story – or did they assume Funder would have the nous to make the story appropriately positive? Regardless, the story would clearly suit what I assume was Paspaley’s target market – upwardly mobile or already there professional thirty-to-forty-something women who have the disposable income but who may see pearls as the province of their Baby Boomer mothers.

This all sounds pretty cynical, and to some degree it surely must be. I would describe the story as “chicklit” for the well-to-do married woman. It’s not challenging reading. The resolution is easy to comprehend and reassuring. However, it is written by Funder. This means that the writing is good, there’s intelligence at play (including an allusion to Chekhov!), and the insights into the pressures of early 21st century professional family life are authentic even if not explored in any depth.

awwchallenge2015Overall, then, it’s an enjoyable read and an interesting concept to ponder. I certainly wouldn’t criticise Funder for taking up the opportunity offered to her. Writers, like all of us, have to live – and if a company like Paspaley is prepared to pay, and offer “complete freedom”, why would you say no?

Anna Funder
Everything precious
Sydney: Paspaley, 2014
Smashwords Edition
Available: Gratis at Paspaley

12 thoughts on “Anna Funder, Everything precious (Review)

  1. I agree It is a very interesting concept, and the story was enjoyable. However, I can only see this concept being offered to well known published authors. The writers who are struggling, or the ones who have never had anything published wouldn’t receive the offer I am not much of a pearl fan, so the advertising photos in the middle I just skipped over. So I think Paspaley was the loser and Funder the winner!

    • LOL Meg re the pearls! I do rather like pearls … Not so much the traditional string but I love some of the modern jewelry featuring them.

      But yes, you’re right I’d say about the author. They’d want the cachet of a name wouldn’t they?

  2. Interesting. In 2001 Fay Weldon wrote a novel for Bulgari the jewelry company and was roundly criticized for it. I haven’t read it, but from what I read about it, she was much more in your face with the advertising. Even the title – The Bulgari Connection. I know there are a number of well-known science fiction writers that consult with and write stories for big tech companies like Google where it’s their job to imagine how someone might use a certain gadget, etc. It makes me a bit uncomfortable but I understand what’s behind it and it isn’t used for direct marketing. But when a novel or story is written for direct marketing, there’s something a bit unsavory about it to me. I’m bombarded with enough advertising every day I don’t need it in my literature too.

    • Ah thanks Stefanie, I had forgotten that Weldon story but but as soon as you said Bulgari I remembered. I didn’t know that about sci fi writers but makes sense. I agree with you in general … As long as I know the background I can decide whether or not I want to read it. In this case there were no specific references to Paspaley or even pearls, but the style and subject matter has to have been closely matched to the target demographic. I’ve seen no reviews of Funder’s story at all except the blogger’s post who brought it to my attention. That’s interesting I think.

  3. I enjoyed the story – thanks for bringing it to our attention – and agree with your comments about brief and target market. I imagine they wanted a heartwarming story, which is what Funder gave them. In this instance Paspaley has handled the advertising/marketing aspect almost invisibly, but I’m ambivalent – any support for writers and the arts is good, yet how much does dependency on corporate funding affect content? If this is the start of a trend, I hope writers are able to accept commissions only from relatively benign companies like Paspaley, rather than those doing more harm, such as coal miners or junk food makers who aim to get kids eating more sugar and fat.

    • Thanks Bryce … Yes, I’m ambivalent too … But I guess artists have always had to tread that fine line when patronage and commissions have been involved haven’t they. And I guess different artists will make different decisions. The main ppint for me, I think, is to know there’s a patron or commission and know who that is.

      I can’t remember who it was but I remember reading about a musician a few centuries ago who was employed by a church but had to carve out opportunities to compose secular music?

  4. At the Aust Society of Author’s conference in 2012 Funder spoke about the necessity for authors to be paid – obviously she has jumped at the chance here, and I would too, esp if there are pearls involved!

    • Spoken like a person who needs to eat Jessica! Thanks for adding this – and, I must say, the photos accompanying the promotion have Funder wearing pearls as well as Palmer. I was wondering whether they were lent to her (as happens with award ceremonies like the Oscars) or whether she was paid in kind or, even better, she got cash and pearls! Still, as with all things as I commented to Bryce, disclosure is important, wouldn’t you agree?

  5. This is a difficult issue. Writers need to eat and relying on the chance of awards or the fiercely competitive grasp for funds means a lot miss out entirely. I touched on this issue for historians in my latest review. The authors (academic historians) have criticised scientists for moulding their research to the needs of those who fund them, but as I pointed out, historians have the same ethical issue too. Even government funding has strings attached (they prefer war history). I am at a loss to know what a writer or researcher can do about these ethical difficulties. Disclose, disclose, disclose is the only solution I can think of.

    • Yes, that’s exactly how I see it Yvonne. Historians, Scientists, Writers – creators and researchers of all sorts – often end up relying on grants, commissions and other sources of funding, and all of these are likely to have some strings, either specific or more subtle. And, really, it has pretty much always been thus. How did Mozart survive for example? So, I agree, disclosure is the thing.

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