Something I often think about is how many books there are that go under the radar every year and how can we rectify this? See, I do have deep moments, here I should mention that I spent 30 minutes wondering what might happen if gravity suddenly failed the other morning, deep indeed. We have great initiatives for neglected classics like Persephone, Text Classics or Virago but for modern novels, bar favourite of mine Fiction Uncovered, there isn’t much. I have been mulling how as a blogger I can do anything, I am still mulling it. The book that has set off this mulling has been Zoe Venditozzi’s debut novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here, which had I not been reading for the Not The Booker Prize, which it won from the public vote of before we pesky judges stepped in, might have passed me by which would have been a proper shame.
Laurie is stuck in a rut. She is working for a call centre which bores her but not as much as her takeaway loving boyfriend, Ed, who barely likes to leave the house let alone his computer or the DVD player. Laurie has had enough and, possibly because of the grief after the death of her mother finally coming to the surface, she decides she needs to become a bit more daring. Her first steps are to not stay in and have a curry but to take herself out for a drink in a pub alone and this is when she meets Gerry, a hospital radio DJ, and things begin to change a little recklessly.
From the start I was a big fan of Anywhere’s Better Than Here simply because of the writing. I think Venditozzi has a corking eye for capturing real lives and real observations, from page two describing pensioners as ‘the biscuit coloured brigade’ I found myself often thinking ‘oh I think that’ including when she is working out, with Jamie a young boy who comes into her life, how she would survive a sudden tsunami or zombie attack. These are things we all think about on occasion and Laurie felt very, very real to me – a big win. She also captures and ponders over some of the mundane aspects of our lives yet without the book ever feeling mundane, instead feeling very real and human. It is bleak yet there is a great sense of humour within it too, we all have mundane moments in our lives after all.
Oddly I also liked the fact that I liked Laurie despite the fact that I actually really disliked her on and off throughout. Occasionally my morals would start kicking in, outraged initially at how she could start dating Gerry when she hadn’t ditched Ed, both playing the moral high ground without just cause. I thought she was behaving like a spoilt cow that needed to buck up her ideas. Yet with Venditozzi’s writing she gained depth, she was complex and whilst I couldn’t always sympathise with her, or like everything she did, I could understood why she was the way she was.
I felt the same with Gerry, who has his own dark past. Yet Gerry was also where I felt I wanted more of his character and the whole Post Traumatic Stress, it never quite hooked me and then with the reasons for his going into war, so I wanted a bit more. There was also the element of the novel, which I won’t spoil because I would like you all to give this a read at some point, where the book completely changes and becomes more of a road trip tale. Here the book wobbled for me ever so slightly, I wanted to say to Venditozzi ‘You don’t need to put anymore in this book, it has me, I am interested don’t add bells and whistles.’ Initially this change in setting and pace didn’t quite sit with me. It went to a level of melodrama (saying that I could see why it happened sort of) that it didn’t need to have, it was a compelling read enough simply in its plot of lifes gritty normalities. Once I got over the (very slight) sulk I embraced the change, accepted the twist and got on with it.
I don’t want that to sound damning on the book though, as I mentioned above I really liked this book and am really pleased that it ended reading it. The only reason I was a little taken aback by the change is because when Venditozzi writes darkly and quietly, with her wonderful observant prose and bleak sense of humour, she is absolutely corking and that is when Anywhere’s Better Than Here really lives and breathes. It is also an unflinching look at grief, depression, how we can think we are coping when really we aren’t and how we find ourselves stuck in life’s ruts. I am very much looking forward to seeing what she does next, she is most definitely one to watch out for. Give it a whirl!
Who else has read Anywhere’s Better Than Here? What are your thoughts on how we, bloggers or broadsheets or just readers, can help find those books which go under the radar and frankly shouldn’t?