Toni Jordan, Nine days (Review)

Jordan's Nine Days

Book cover (Courtesy: Text Publishing)

Toni Jordan’s latest novel, Nine days, is somewhat of a departure from her first two novels which are more in the chicklit vein, albeit chicklit with a difference. The thing is, I don’t generally read chicklit, but I did enjoy Addition and Fall girl, so I was more than willing to read Jordan’s next offering. I was not disappointed.

Nine days was, according to the Author’s note, inspired by a photograph from the State Library of Victoria’s Argus collection. The photograph forms the cover of the book’s first edition: it depicts an unidentified soldier leaning out of a train window to kiss an also unidentified young woman. Jordan has woven around this photo a multi-generational story that spans six decades or so from the eve of world war 2 to the present. The title refers to the nine days upon which the book’s nine chapters are built – with an added complexity. This is a multiple point of view novel like, say, Christos TsiolkasThe slap and Elliot Perlman‘s Seven types of ambiguity, but while those two novels progressed their narratives in a linear chronology via the changing voices, Jordan’s chronology jumps around in a seemingly chaotic manner. However, there is method to it, because careful reading reveals thematic or structural connections, even if not chronological ones, between each chapter.

That’s the basic structure, but the real interest of course is in what the novel’s about. How, though, to describe the plot of such a novel succinctly? The best way is to simply say that the novel tells the story of three generations of one family, which is, by the way, an impressive thing to attempt in 250 pages. There is a central mystery – for the reader and for the family though they aren’t necessarily aware of it – to do with the two figures in the photograph. Each chapter is named simply for the character in whose first person voice it is told. The first is Kip, a nearly 15-year-old boy in 1939, who has just had to leave school and go to work because of the recent death of his father. Other chapters are told by his twin brother Francis/Frank (who gets to stay at school), his mother Jean, and his much loved big sister Connie. Interspersed with their stories are those told by Kip’s wife, Jack who lives next door, Kip’s twin daughters, and even his grandson. For each person something happens – some choice must be, or is, made – in the particular day they describe, which impacts their life’s direction.

It’s an ambitious structure, but Jordan succeeds, for a few reasons. A big one is her ability to create strong, believable characters who are likable despite their faults. It helps that the first character, Kip, is particularly engaging. He’s easy-going and generous-hearted, but is also endowed with a good dose of wits and common-sense. He plays an important role in the denouement. His daughters, the overweight, rather uptight Stanzi, and the hippy-alternative-eco-warrior Charlotte, are clearly differentiated and provide a touch of humour with their (mostly) good-natured sibling bickering and point-scoring. Most contemporary female readers will see bits of themselves or people they know in these two. And, while I’m speaking of women, I can’t resist quoting Kip’s young, restless sixteen-year old grandson Alec:

I’ve wasted my whole entire existence up to now. I’ve done absolutely nothing with it. I’ve just been counting down the months of my life. Sixteen years, totally useless. I live with three women. A big night at my place is when the ABC runs a Jane Austen marathon. God I hate that Bennet chick. Marry him already, and spare us the drama.

Another reason the book works is that Jordan manages place and time well. Counterbalancing the seemingly erratic chronology is the fact that place is kept simple. The whole novel occurs pretty much in one suburb in working class Melbourne. This helps keep we readers grounded, as do two little motifs – a “lucky” shilling and a purple pendant – which appear on and off throughout the novel. I was initially concerned, after the first couple of chapters, that the shilling was going to be a little heavy-handed or mechanistic – particularly given the shilling graphic commencing each chapter – but it’s not. Like the pendant, it appears in some, but not other, chapters, and in so doing helps keep us focused without irritating us.

In other words, the book is handled very well technically. But, that’s not what makes a book, in the end, is it? What makes a book good is its heart – and the heart of this book is warm but real. Its particular subjects are war, abortion, religious and class difference, social conscience and social mobility, but it is also a universal tale about how love (marital, romantic, sibling, parental, and so on) forms the glue that keeps us going. This might sound corny, but that’s not how it comes across. The novel has its share of grittiness; and relationships have their tensions, conveying the message that love (whether marital, sibling or parental) is not a simple endpoint but something to be worked at.

This may not be the book for readers who like long family sagas they can lose themselves in, but for those like me who enjoy works which tease and leave ties undone, much like life really, Nine days has plenty to offer.

Toni Jordan
Nine days
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2012
ISBN: 9781921922831

(Review copy supplied by Text Publishing)

Toni Jordan, Fall girl

Jordan Fall Girl

Fall girl cover (Courtesy: Text Publishing)

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.

Toni Jordan
Fall girl
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 9781921656651

(Review copy supplied by Text Publishing)

Toni Jordan, Addition

Addition Pb cover, Courtesy Text Publishing

Addition Pb cover, Courtesy Text Publishing


Looks like, feels like, is it? Chick lit, that is. Toni Jordan’s first novel Addition has all the hallmarks of chick lit. The cover design with its line drawing of a female form invokes chick lit – albeit chick lit with an edge as the heels aren’t quite high enough and the colours not quite girly enough. The plot though is pure rom com and pretty much standard chick-lit: girl meets boy, girl loses (kicks out) boy, girl gets boy back. So why has this book garnered more attention and positive critical response than its sisters?

Well, Jordan is no Jane Austen (who is sometimes called the mother of chick lit) but she has produced something a little fresh. Her heroine, Grace, is not quite the standard chick lit heroine. She has had a breakdown, she is not in employment, she is not upwardly mobile and she is not focused on fashion and appearance (though it has to be said that she’s not oblivious to these latter either). Instead, she’s an ex-primary school teacher (not the most fashionable career, anyhow, in the world of chick lit) and she suffers from an obsessive compulsive disorder that results in her need to count, anything and everything, in order to maintain control over her life. And her hero, Seamus, a happy, ordinary dresser in an ordinary go-nowhere job, is “average”. Fortunately, though, with the help of her smart young niece, Grace realises at the end “that average can actually be unique”.

Grace’s voice is chick-lit-sassy and the book is genuinely funny a lot of the time, but there are also times when it is forced and tips over into being smart-alecky, such as her reactions to the psychiatrist and therapist. Her other hero is Nikola Tesla, the not-properly recognised famous inventor of many things electrical, who also had an obsessive compulsive disorder relating to numbers. It is the presence of Nikola in Grace’s life which sustains her at the beginning, helps ground her at the end and gives the book its real hook – that is, that being different is to be cherished and encouraged, as long as it doesn’t drag you down.

Jordan has a nice flair for language too. I liked the change in tone and pace when Grace’s panic rises, and a similar change in Jill’s speech to Grace when they are in hospital discussing their mother’s future. She’s lightly ironic in places and includes the odd bit of wordplay. It will be interesting to see where she goes next.

In addition (excusez-moi!) to its trying sometimes to be a bit too funny and its somewhat preachy ending (“Listen … Life is ..”), the book’s main problem is it’s too close adherence to the formula. You know she is going to lose him and you know she is going to get him back. It’s just a matter of how. Some level this same criticism at that favourite author of mine, Jane Austen, but her books encompass way more than plot to say some fundamental things about the human condition. I can read her again and again and see something new, or take away another perspective. I can’t see anything in Addition, as delightful as it is, that would afford me that pleasure on multiple readings.

So, read it, enjoy it – as I did – but if you want something a little more sustaining, try Jane.