I was eager to dig into this novel because I had read such great reviews about it online. Although it’s safe to say my interest in 90s-era British journalism is essentially nonexistent, the novel still seemed interesting purely on the merits of the author’s writing. And Annalena McAfee’s writing style certainly is noteworthy. She has a quick pace to her sentences and subtle humor in her characters that would make any reader want to crack open her novel. But her slow-paced plot structure and arrogant characters turned me off of this book so fast I could barely read 100 pages of it without throwing it on the ground.
The two main characters (I will refrain from calling them “heroines” or “protagonists” so as not to demean the term) are a crotchety old woman and a vapid young woman who are both journalists in England. Honor Tait has reported on wars and profiled important political players and has even managed to earn herself a Pulitzer before completely dropping off the radar. Apparently her lack of fame of failure to keep a husband (she has three ex-husbands and there’s something about hiring men to pleasure her) and her drop off the cultural radar has turned her into a very bitter woman who lashes out on the only person she comes into contact with. That person is Tamara Sim who has come to Tait’s apartment to interview her for a piece in some gossip rag as press for Tait’s new book (which is just a reworking of all her old stuff for she hasn’t written anything new in decades). Sim has no idea who Tait is and only wants juicy gossip about Tait’s supposed love affairs with celebrities of yore. Tamara’s shallow attitude and blithering unawareness of news or current events that extends being celebrity gossip makes her just as insufferable as Tait.
The first fifty pages are a meandering trip to down memory lane as we learn about these two characters pasts without being at invested in their present. McAfee gives us a few juicy details about some of their past lovers but leaves out anything that would give us a full understanding of what happened to them which could inform the reader of the characters’ current state of mind. When we finally reach the interview that both of the characters have been prepping for we see them spar as if they’ve both just been pricked by red-hot pokers. The ensuing interview solidified my dislike of both women, and the lack of plot that followed (more aimless backstory giving us not quite enough information) led me to put the book for good.
If there is truly any redeeming quality in this book, I failed to see it. I’m sure the contrast of old journalism with new would be interesting to some, but with such unlikable characters I’m not sure how pleasant that journey would be. McAfee, for what it’s worth, certainly has a grasp of 90s British pop culture references and a superfluous vocabulary; but I found that those served more as smoke-and-mirror distractions from her lack of direction in storytelling. Maybe there are some big revelations at the end of the novel (and kudos to you if you make it to them), but I can’t find ability to care.