Amn’t I fancy, doing a review? I am sitting beside a copy of Looking for Leon, a book I would normally pass by in any shop, because we judge things by their covers, and the cover for this book is sparkly, with a big old shooting star, twinkling stars, twinkles on the edges of the title, a black skyline and author’s name in pink. And the by-line “What would you do to find the one that got away?” did nothing for me either. So why did I read it? I hear you ask.
Well, stoopid kindle face went down before I got to get onto my next book club book, it’s now forever trapped behind a splodge, at least until I can get it fixed up, so the nearest book to hand was in my hand within seconds. Shirley, the author, had sent me a nice email offering me a review copy too, and I rarely say no to free stuff, and have never been known to say no to a free book, so I said “Yes please, kind stranger” hoping she wouldn’t realise I don’t write for the New Yorker between seeing my response and getting to the post box.
So on with the review. I started to read, and my heart sank a little. I really didn’t like the protagonist, in fact – she made me a bit angry. One of her biggest complaints about a colleague was that he was one of those people who don’t care what anyone else thinks of him, something I fervently aspire to, so I took that personally maybe. There was also the fact that she lived in a totally alien world to me, where her modelling a bikini on Grafton street actually did something major for the sales of bananas, and she said things like “Leon was my spirit in another person. We were two halves of the same entity” when talking about a man she spent a few hours with in a casino hotel in Vegas – the catalyst for the whole adventure and her soul mate.
When I got to the bit on where she was about to lose him for the first time, I actually laughed out loud at some of the writing – where something inside the protagonist exploded in response to the man’s smile (sadly not her appendix), and then he lifted his hand up to hers, took it from his shoulder and to his mouth, where he kissed it so tenderly that she instantly felt like crying with the beauty of the moment... This all made me want to read on – I wanted to see if this would be a book that would be so bad it was good.
So we followed Andie, for that was her name, on her quest to find the man she’d loved and lost. The author had an unusual style, conversational and intimate with the reader, meandering a good bit, trying to make the most of the inner demons of her cast, never losing a chance to make a joke whether the scene was serious or not. (She also sometimes put her sub-points in brackets, which made me sometimes want to skip over them, thinking they mustn’t be that important and then I remembered that I often do that on this blog, and wondered if that is the way you readers feel about them too)(but then I stopped worrying about that because I wanted to keep on reading).
The adventure was kind of predictable, in a nice, satisfying, amn’t I the clever reader – I knew that was coming (ok there was one big thing I didn’t see coming, but you won’t know that if you don’t read what’s in the brackets, like me) kind of way. It was annoying and inconsistent in parts – one of our heroine’s major selling points later on is that she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. There’s a lot that annoyed me as a reader, but a few little gems too (a mention of Jim Morrison hearing her from his grave all the way away in Paris), and the book in the end I think, kept me looking forward to coming back because of the simplicity and artless style of storytelling – almost like getting regular emails from a slightly annoying younger sister who feels the need to constantly remind you how much she’s learning about life as she goes along, but you do end up caring about where she ends up, and always feel a little teensy bit excited opening it up for another gulp, even though you know it’s complete unreality and exaggeration.
So in summary, I enjoyed it. Shirley Benton’s debut is a bouncing labrador of a read that sometimes thinks it’s a poodle, and I would look forward to having a read of her next book.