Girl on The Page: Another one I’m not sure how I feel about

Girl on the Page book review

What is this about?: Amy is an editor tasked with saving the reputation of her publishing house and literary great Helen Owen, who was paid an advance to write a novel that is a commercial success. In order to help Helen, she moves into her basement flat, and from there becomes part and parcel of Helen and her husband, Malcolm’s life.

What else is this about?: It’s a look at literature, at people who love books and… you know what, I really don’t know what else this book is about.

Blurb

Two women, two great betrayals, one path to redemption. A punchy, powerful and page-turning novel about the redemptive power of great literature, from industry insider, John Purcell.

Amy Winston is a hard-drinking, bed-hopping, hot-shot young book editor on a downward spiral. Having made her name and fortune by turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child, Amy is given the unenviable task of steering literary great Helen Owen back to publication.

When Amy knocks on the door of their beautiful townhouse in north-west London, Helen and her husband, the novelist Malcolm Taylor, are conducting a silent war of attrition. The townhouse was paid for with the enormous seven-figure advance Helen was given for the novel she wrote to end fifty years of making ends meet on critical acclaim alone. The novel Malcolm thinks unworthy of her. The novel Helen has yet to deliver. The novel Amy has come to collect.

Amy has never faced a challenge like this one. Helen and Malcolm are brilliant, complicated writers who unsettle Amy into asking questions of herself – questions about what she values, her principles, whether she has integrity, whether she is authentic. Before she knows it, answering these questions becomes a matter of life or death.

From ultimate book industry insider, John Purcell, comes a literary page-turner, a ferocious and fast-paced novel that cuts to the core of what it means to balance ambition and integrity, and the redemptive power of great literature.

I don’t know quite what to make of Girl on the Page.

And Yes, it’s another Girl book.

I was doing quite well, and found myself totally immersed in the book until about the last third when I feel it took a left turn and never quite recovered.

Characterisation

The book begins as a character exploration of Amy, Helen and Malcolm. These characters drive the book, and while I didn’t particularly like any of them, I at least understood Helen and Malcolm to some degree. Amy seemed to be an exaggeration, wrapped up in a book editor that doesn’t need her job for money, is rude to everyone but masters the art of manipulation and office politics, so much so that I am envious – and wanted to see more of that.

She also likes sex – in private and public places, with anyone who is remotely attractive. Presumably, this is to get over a terrible break up with her ex boyfriend, Max, a couple of years prior, but to be honest, I didn’t need pages and pages of descriptions of her being fucked or giving a blow-job, because frankly, that was the least interesting part of her, and it took up way too much time.

The book seemed to want to build an image of her as self-destructive, but I wondered if sex was easier than delving into her ruining friendships, or even copping some sort of consequence for any of the other actions she takes – like from her boss. Amy may act like she owns the publishing house, but she doesn’t. She genuinely loves what she does, but it’s a missed opportunity to see her self-destructiveness not strip that from her in the book, and have her fear something she enjoys greatly – or even overcome it.

So What Happens in this book?

So, Amy is an editor extraordinaire. She can make anything brilliant, so much so that she’ created a lucrative partnership with Liam – think Lee Child and Jack Reacher – and they in turn have made tons of money for Amy’s employer M&R.

Her success with him, means she gets sent off to help Helen deliver a manuscript that is worth the two million pounds a previous publishing director has given Helen. When Amy arrives at Helen and Malcolm’s house, she finds a couple who doesn’t seem to understand each other any more. Helen likes the security money brings – and to be quite frank, this is one of the most relatable things in the story, and is contrasted with the way Amy throws money around, possibly I think because she has never actually worried about having to pay bills in her life.

Malcolm would rather still be poor, living in their old flat but have respect of his literary peers. It’s a nice thought, but I feel like he’s far removed from reality and so self-absorbed, he never thought to ask Helen what she wanted. Instead, he would rather discard her emotionally for “selling out”.

Anyway, Amy immerses herself in their life, and meets their son, Daniel. Daniel provides insight into Helen and Malcolm’s early life, though he’s one of those people who never lived up to his own expectations of being the son of two literary greats. It eats at him, and it’s eroded his relationship with his parents – which is infinitely more interesting than reading about his developing fascination with Amy after he watches her and Liam have sex in the driveway of his parents’ house.

Like Daniel, Max is there to drive Amy’s story, to let us understand her and her self-destructive ways, but I couldn’t quite figure out why he was there so briefly to interact with her, and he wasn’t used more to illustrate how self-destructive she was. There’s time devoted to him interviewing Malcolm, but not so much more devoted to his superficial interactions with Amy.

The conclusion of the story is less dramatic and thriller-like than the blurb would suggest, but more heartbreaking too. I can’t decide if it’s a cop out or not.

On the one hand, not everything should be tied up neatly with a red bow, but it robs two main characters of a resolution, or perhaps  (much needed) confrontation to a thread in their story in  the whole book. Perhaps, it’s enough that readers get the conversation I think these characters should have had in the form of a speech a character gives.

I appreciate that the book is asking some big, pertinent questions about literature, and the realisations the characters come to, but I think something got lost somewhere. 

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