What is normal anyway?

Sherry Cracker Gets Normal by D J Connell

Sherry Cracker is not a normal girl – she’s a loner, loves tartan trousers, facts, and obsessively documents all the graffiti she sees around her town in her ‘OBSERVATIONS’ file. She works for Chinese businessman Mr Chin, in an office above the closed-down cinema, where they buy used gold from dentists. Sherry is an innocent, probably mildly autistic, and takes life very literally. She has lived alone in a bedsit since her mother abandoned her six months ago.

There are strange things going on in her town – not least all the strange graffiti. The Council elections are at the weekend, and the two candidates couldn’t be more different. Roger Bottle is a rabid expansionist and control-freak fan of CCTV, whereas his opponent Warren Crumpet is campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket.

On Friday afternoon, Mr Chin shuts up shop. He tells Sherry that she is abnormal, and gives her the weekend and £100 to get normal if she wants to keep her job on the Monday. Sherry is confused, but takes him very seriously, and sets off on a personal journey that will see her consult a variety of so-called experts that are anything but; meet, converse, get misunderstood and sometimes threatened by some of the town’s more unsavoury characters; and take her part in the election.

However, it is the two friends that she makes that will define her future.   Nigel is a  young runaway and mischief-maker.  His ghastly parents and half the town including Big Trish the WPC are out looking for the ‘Little Bastard’, but Sherry takes pity on him.  Then, in the park she meets Jocelyn de Foisgras, a gentleman alcoholic who wears make-up, perfume and a  fuchsia-coloured greatcoat, and has a  Chihuahua called Herb Alpert.  She goes with Jocelyn, who is suffering badly from withdrawal, to his house for a cup of tea…

Jocelyn lived on Des O’Connor Crescent in a house my mother would have described as palatial before criticising it as showy. …

Jocelyn’s pipes stopped rattling overhead as I arranged a selection of biscuits on a tray with the teapot and matching floral cups. I was carrying it into the parlour when he appeared through the other door. He had changed into rose-coloured satin pyjamas and a burgundy robe.  On his feet were burgundy slippers with a white faux-fur trim. He looked fresher and happier. His eyes were shining and his face had been washed and redusted with powder and blusher.

With the aid of her friends, Sherry has a weekend to remember – full of adventure, self-discovery, and peril too thanks to a robbery side-plot.  Normality, she finds, is not all it’s cracked up to be. You can’t help but warm to her.

Each of the characters, Sherry included, is a different stereotype – It does feel a bit like the author has made a list and shoe-horned them all in.  The star is of course Jocelyn – the ageing gay alcoholic dandy.  He is a true gentleman though and takes all of life’s knocks with elegance and dignity.  Mr Chin also fits the bill as a rotund Chinaman who speaks in philosophical Yoda-speak.   Artful Dodger Nigel, his chav parents, the burly WPC, assorted ‘therapists’ and psychics, etc etc etc – they’re all there too.  Seen through Sherry’s eyes, her town is a depressing place to be, no wonder everyone is crackers, and stuck in what feels like the 1970s.

Beneath this darkly comic suburban hinterland, there is hope though – could a happy ending be on the cards?  Although there were a good few chuckles, I didn’t consider this book to be a true comic novel – it was trying too hard. Despite being chock full of obvious stereotypes, (but often comic novels are…?), I was broadly entertained; (unlike Sam Jordison in the Guardian, who found the character types just too ‘toxic’!). (6.5/10)

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My copy was kindly supplied by the publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Sherry Cracker Gets Normal by D J Connell – Pub July 2011,  Blue Door (Harper Collins), Trade paperback, 284 pages.

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