Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Living the Dream by Lauren Berry Review


Emma and Clem are twentysomething Londoners who want to be writers. And, er, that’s it - Lauren Berry neglected to include a story in her debut novel, Living the Dream! 

Emma’s the realist of the two, working an office job to pay the rent and writing in her spare time, while Clem’s the dreamer, going full tilt at the screenwriting lark and being broke and living at home for her efforts. I’d hoped Berry would wring some humour and/or wry observations about juggling artistic aspirations with mundane office work but no such luck; all she’s got is that corporate life is fake and stupid and work is, like, shit, innit? Bah. 

Besides no story to speak of, there isn’t much to the characters either. Emma and Clem are largely identical: smart, witty, beautiful, undiscovered geniuses (ie. Berry’s Mary Sues). 

The men though: each male character is an absurd one-dimensional caricature. They vary from retarded twits like Emma’s boss Adrian to flat-out tossers like the director Clem goes on a date with, Clem’s cheating ex actor boyfriend Jordan or skeevy married Ross. Some are harmless man-childs, there to be condescended to like pets such as Emma’s flatmate Paul and Emma’s dad, the bumbling old coot who doesn’t get modern tech, or they’re hawt and therefore only good to fuck. 

I don’t really mind, it’s just an observation I found amusing, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a feminist press like Virago would publish a novel taking this kind of tack, but imagine if a male writer did the same thing to women characters. Oh, we wouldn’t hear the end of it! Poor bastard would be castigated as a misogynistic, sexist pillar of the patriarchy and made to publicly apologise before having his novel pulled off shelves and burned! Oh well, the double standards continue as usual… 

The book tediously ambles through cliched chick-lit stuff: boozy nights out, boy troubles, a baby scare, romantic trysts, and to finish off (what else?): a wedding. Ho hum. Berry’s observations on the corporate world are as equally unoriginal as her generic plotting, lacking any insight. And Emma and Clem predictably get lucky at the end just through sorta finding people who can make them successful - utterly unimaginative fluff. 

A few scenes were vividly written (Clem’s bartending gig, Clem and Emma’s birthday fight) and the novel is well-written overall but I’d hoped for a much more subversive, fun and entertaining book than what Living the Dream turned out to be. As it is, it’s an unimpressive, unmemorable and largely unidentifiable read from the bulk of girly books out there now that occasionally tries (and fails) to stand out by making faces at the modern world. Ooo, edgy! 

Maybe a more talented writer could make something of the premise or maybe there really isn’t anything to be said about creative people forced to work tedious jobs to make ends meet. Either way, this one is boring, bland and directionless rubbish - don’t bother.

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