Review Catch-up – Dahl, Dooley and Dunn

The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl

Translated by Don Bartlett

First up a slice of Shiny Linkiness (full review here). Dahl is one of Norway’s finest crime writers, and his newest novel is an historical standalone that edges from crime into espionage, so given my love of all things spy, this was always going to be my kind of book. It has a dual timeline set in the mid 1920s and then late 1930s, with an interesting pair of protagonists – the booze-runner and ‘policeman from hell’ of the 1920s, later pair up as private eyes in the 1930s, when the ‘neutral’ Norway was having some secret German goings-on. The plot is driven by the women from Jack’s past coming back to haunt him later in a complex case. The Assistant drips with atmosphere and I highly recommend it. (9/10)

So, I can tick Norway off my list for the European Reading Challenge 2021 hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader too.

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Flake by Matthew Dooley

Inspired by Rebecca’s recent post on some new graphic novels, I pulled this one from last year off my shelf. It’s a gem and was the first graphic novel to win the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction.

It’s the story of ice-cream wars in a small Northern town. Howard inherited his van and Dobbiston route from his late father, but his half-brother Tony Augustus by a different mother has grown an ice-cream empire and wants Dobbiston for himself. This is a classic tale of the little man ultimately prevailing, (with the help of the Dobbiston Mountain Rescue team).

There are some great jokes in it, including a unique take on the development of the now ubiquitous salted caramel flavour; some are subtle, some make you giggle. There’s also a lot of humanity in this story, as Howard grapples with the curve ball that life has thrown him.

The whole is mostly coloured in ice-cream pastels which is a particularly lovely touch. (That’s Tony in the pic to your right by the way). Dooley’s characters are simply drawn, but exude character. I loved Howard’s friend Jasper’s comb-over and silly moustache and the clever way that at one stage Dooley blends Howard in with the fence – he’s wearing a beige hairy tank top, has stubble, and the wooden fence is grainy – all done with similar little short lines.

This was Dooley’s debut graphic novel (some collected comics are available on Kindle), and I can’t wait to read his next. Flake is like the perfect Mr Whippy 99. Loved it. (10/10)

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My Silver Shoes & The Muse by Nell Dunn

Back in 2018 I read Dunn’s novella 1967 Poor Cow, (reviewed here) and loved it. The story of Joy, a South London working class young woman who loved being loved. It caused a scandal at the time for Joy’s earthiness! Joy was based on Josie, a good friend of Dunn’s, and Dunn went on to immortalise her in her play Steaming, and a further novel My Silver Shoes, and now a memoir of her friend Josie – The Muse (which I’ve reviewed for Shiny here).

Telling the story of Nell and Joy’s long friendship, I decided to watch the film of Poor Cow (with Carol White and Terence Stamp, directed by Ken Loach) and to read My Silver Shoes, before getting into The Muse proper.

My Silver Shoes is set twenty years on from Poor Cow in the late 1980s. Joy’s young son Jonny has grown up and joined the Army, she’s living in a council flat next door to her mother Gladys, she has a job she loves at a Job Club, and Joy has a new man, Jeff, who works in dry cleaning.

However, life isn’t going to be easy for Joy. Gladys has a fall and is also in the early stages of dementia. Gladys tends to forgets to do anything for herself, falling asleep on the sofa in her clothes and surprising herself at being ready to go to the day centre the morning after. Gladys also won’t leave Joy alone and is obsessed that she’s got fleas. When Jonny goes AWOL and turns up at the flat needing to be hidden and Joy refusing to give him up to the MPs, what with Gladys always being there, Jeff is beginning to have had enough!

Through all of these trials and tribulations, Joy tries to see the bright side, distracting herself with looking for nice net curtains, making the flat look nice, remembering all her past loves. My Silver Shoes rings very true and it has its moments of humour, but it isn’t funny or shocking in the way that Poor Cow was. Life has, to a certain extent, caught up with Joy, but you know she’ll get through it, especially with a bloke by her side. (7.5/10).

The Muse, meanwhile, presents a unique picture of the friendship that Nell and Josie still have. After describing their meeting which inspired Poor Cow, she concentrates on what happened afterwards. It is told in vignette style through Nell’s memories, letters, conversations with Josie and peppered with photos of the two women and their friends; they all show women having fun and taking charge. Friendships like that of Josie and Nell don’t happen often and this book is charming and full of high spirits celebrating their sisterhood over the decades. (9/10)

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13 thoughts on “Review Catch-up – Dahl, Dooley and Dunn

  1. Calmgrove says:

    I enjoy these catch-up posts with their varied titles and summary assessments, and this offering is no exception, thanks! The Dahl particularly appeals, but the positive vibes of The Muse also draws me.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Poor Cow was brilliant (all novella length). I have Up the Junction her earlier story cycle on my shelves which I’m saving for Novellas in November.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I love this kind of graphic novel, as opposed to Manga and superhero ones. This was lovely. You’d like it I know.

  2. BookerTalk says:

    I’ve never read a graphic novel – somehow I have them associated in my mind with the comics of my youth. Probably a completely erroneous association

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Some are! But the kind I like are essentially novellas in visual form – like Flake.

  3. Liz Dexter says:

    Oh, The Muse sounds excellent as I have read both the novels. I’m hopeless with graphic novels as I skip through the text and don’t look at the pictures properly!

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