Thursday, September 18, 2003

Just Between Us

by Cathy Kelly

JAMES says:

Inspired by the last review, I’m going to review this book by its cover. I know nothing about the plot, the author, or even the publishing house. All I know is that according to Amazon, it is a best-seller. For a start, the colour scheme. Pastels and Purples, what we call the Ikea look. These are colours beloved of old ladies, so either this is a purposefully subversive, or a gentle book. My gut says to go with gentle. This is backed up by the slightly off kilter l’s in the authors name, and the handwritten title. The title is ‘Just Between Us’, and the cover depicts a group of women talking over tea. I’m sensing now I’m not the target audience. And the tagline, ‘friends this good are hard to find,’ suggests it is female, rather than male, desires that are to be catered to.

So, taking this all at face value, which is kind of the point of judging a book by it’s cover, I’m going to assume that this is a soap opera-esque story about 3 separate woman, each with vaguely different but essentially bourgeois lives. These women meet up regularly to discuss their lives over tea, and tragedy probably strikes at least one of them. There will probably be some vaguely racy element in there to disguise the essential blandness of the book and assuage the readers guilt at going for a comforting, rather than a worthwhile, work.

This is a novel that plays to the strengths of the genre rather than attempting to subvert it’s limits. Like an average Agatha Christie, it passes the time but leaves you completely unchanged. People will know exactly what to expect from this book and they’ll get it. Now, either publishing companies graphic departments are reassuringly unimaginative, or I’m a big prejudiced arrogant fool. Someone who has read this book, please write in and settle the whole Book/Cover debate once and for all.


NEILL says:

Inspired by the last review, I'm going to go one step further and attempt to judge this book by its cover without even having seen its cover.

'Just Between Us' by Cathy Kelly is an incendiary work of hallucinogenic brilliance that not only takes the novel to new places formally but succeeds in communicating a vision of human existence quite unlike anything else in fiction, or indeed art in general. Structurally, it is based around three distinct but interwoven stories. The first concerns the adventures of a narcoleptic private detective in turn-of the century Egypt as he attempts to track down a gang of subversive theologians who are terrorising the city by offering radical insights into the nature of God and Existence whilst stealing people's crumpets. The second thread is a feverishly hyper-detailed nanosecond-by-nanosecond account of the final moments of the star Sirius B as it goes supernova, some three-hundred million years in the future, written from the subjective perspective of a bluebottle in Leeds that thinks it's Kierkegaard. The third strand is in the form of a draft teleplay for the pilot episode of a proposed sitcom about domestic abuse, entitled 'That's My Wife, I Beat Her'. This is apparently written by the grandaughter of the Egyptian detective's wife's chiropractor, and it ties together themes and seemingly disparate events from the other two plots, whilst also containing several surprisingly funny wife-beating jokes.

All this formal inventiveness and intellectual trickery might come off as a little shallow and mannered, were the book not rooted in such devastatingly insightful and heartfelt characterisations. Bertie the Bluebottle in particular is one of the most well-drawn and authentic characters in the entire history of literature. Cathy Kelly will almost certainly win the Booker prize for 'Just Between Us', possibly for several years running. It is, quite simply, the most important book you will ever read.


... it could be...

Buy on Amazon: Just Between Us

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