This lovely book crept up on me. I was initially worried it would be what US publishers call a ‘cosy’ — a warm and fuzzy story without much real tension. And, in fact, it has many ‘cosy’ elements: a feel-good cast of characters, a romance or two, a variety of happy outcomes. But it is also whip-smart, very funny, and unpredictable — altogether a blend of elements that kept me up late, reading just one more chapter.
Fifty-something, one-time career woman Gina has no partner, no job, no home, no money and no prospects. Freshly dumped by her rat-husband, she is in shock from the collapse of their business and the cancellation of her soon-to-be-published novel. In other words, she is in a hole. And she has no idea how to dig her way out.
Offered a chance to house- and dog-sit in the tiny seaside town of Shelly Beach, she jumps at the chance, anticipating months of solitude in a crumbling, view-free shack. Instead, she is immediately drawn into a community rich in activity and quirky folk — none of whom will take no for an answer. There is baby-sitting and wedding planning and baking and weeding and seal-watching and even the occasional drinking of parsnip wine, not to mention retrieving amorous dogs and finding foster homes for unwanted cats.
And there are potential (and occasionally actual) lovers: gorgeous-but-too-young Lee, smarmy Digby, pushy Adrian (her landlord, capable of being pushy even by email).
Much of the back-story — and much of the humour — plays out through Gina’s long talks with the Dog (as she calls him), who I quickly realised had become her alter-ego:
Time was running out. After the wedding, I had to focus on getting a job in the new year and somewhere to live.
The Dog said it’s not the hole I have to conquer but myself.
I ignored the dog.
The book’s title promises readers a ‘book about books’. Pushy Adrian has foisted the task of coordinating writers’ group meetings onto Gina. She’s a most reluctant participant, but her comments on the group’s regular writing assignments reflected neatly on the novel I was actually reading. (Clever without toppling into too-clever post-modernism!)
At the story’s end, there’s a sense of ‘more to come’. Some questions resolved, some not. So very intriguing. So very indicative that a sequel could be waiting in the wings. Hope so.