Monday, July 26, 2010

A million miles from mediocre

The “chick-lit” genre is a small industry in South Africa, and certainly has room to grow. However, with the plethora of Marianne Keyes books filling the shelves of Exclusives, it would be easy for SA authors to follow her formula down to every pun and plot. Instead, Paige Nick has written a fresh, nuanced novel that could pioneer the way for “chick-lit” in South Africa - and beyond

This is not to say that Marianne Keyes should not be an inspiration for an author writing in the genre. However, I feel that Nick has taken the best of what Keyes has to offer, and makes a clear distinction to leave out the rest.

For example, Keyes is known for her playful puns and frothy phrases, which have become a hallmark of chick-lit. Nick definitely uses these, and her humour is equally enjoyable and entertaining. However, she keeps the puns in check and never takes them to the extreme that Keyes does. This means that they pepper the story with entertaining and clever exclamations, but they do not become the body of the text, as they tend to in Keyes’ books. Most importantly, this strategy allows for Nicks’ writing to shine through and flow easily - which simply takes the book to another level.

Further, by avoiding the extreme level of word tricks and puns in Keyes’ books means that the narrative of A Million Miles from Normal is able to develop into a much stronger storyline, and that the plot is able to emerge more clearly. On this note, the plot is much more engaging and in-depth than I expected from a chick-lit novel (perhaps my prejudices stand to be corrected!).

A Million Miles from Normal tells the story of Rachel Marcus, a nice Jewish girl and copywriter from Johannesburg, who escapes a humiliating retrenchment and broken engagement by going to New York City. There, she meets a range of quirky characters and fabulous friends, experiences dating disasters, kills cockroaches and searches endlessly for Five Roses Tea.

The tale goes much deeper than this – the plot is intricate and the characters are intriguing. Something I also found enjoyable was that Nick delves into the copywriting and advertising industry, which adds even more interest to the story. Finally, one of the best aspects of the novel is that we are kept in suspense literally until the very last word - a rare feat in any book, never mind chick-lit. Nick must be commended for weaving a plot that it keeps the reader in suspense until the very end.

The only criticism I have of the book is that I would have liked more of it to be set in South Africa. Maybe this is simply my own preference - one of the things I enjoy most about SA literature is that I can identify with it more than a novel set anywhere else. However, on the flip side of that coin is that Nick did an excellent job of writing about New York City - and this shows that South African authors can indeed extend into the global arena.

Ultimately, I would recommend A Million Miles from Normal to anyone who loves the chick-lit genre and anyone who doesn’t - both sets of readers will be equally surprised by the standard this novel sets!

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