A Tiny Bit Marvellous
Everyone hates the perfect family. So you’ll love the Battles.
Meet Mo Battle, about to turn 50 and mum to two hormonal teenagers. There’s 17-year-old daughter Dora who blames Mo for, like, EVERYTHING and Peter who believes he’s quite simply as marvellous as his hero Oscar Wilde. Somewhere, keeping quiet, is Dad who’s just, well…Dad.
However Mo is having a crisis. She’s about to do something unusually wild and selfish which will leave the entire family teetering on the edge of a precipice. Will the family fall? Or will they, when it really matters, be there for each other?
I’ve always loved Dawn French and have grown up watching TV programmes like French & Saunders and The Vicar of Dibley, so I was really interested to see whether her infectious humour could transcend from the screen to the page. I definitely wasn’t disappointed. Her debut novel was hilarious, moving and more than a tiny bit marvellous.
It is a story of an average yet dysfunctional family – the aptly named Battles – told through a series of diary entries from Mum, Mo, and her two teenage children Dora and Peter (who is actually referred to as Oscar throughout, but we’ll get to that). Dad/husband has only one diary entry to himself – presumably because the rest of the time he’s too busy trying to quietly steer the family together, during a time in which they all seem a little bit lost.
From their entries we can deduce a lot about the characters and the ‘battles’ they are facing both on an internal level and with each other. For example Mo is nearing 50 and feels unappreciated, unattractive and unfulfilled. As a child psychologist she is exasperated at her inability to understand her own children’s bothersome behaviour and among all of this she is on the cusp of an extra marital affair with a younger and very alluring man.
Dora is an archetypal 17-year-old – full of self loathing, angst and hatred for the world and in particular her mother. Amidst the horror of teenage relationships, exams and auditioning for The X Factor, Dora finds herself in a potentially dark and dangerous situation. Will she pull through unscathed?
Peter, conversely, is anything but an archetypal teenager and his obsession for Oscar Wilde and all things ‘enchanting’ make him completely loveable and endearingly funny. Despite his over inflated ego, voracious use of the English language, dandy-inspired dress sense, dramatic love affairs and determination to flout the rules of conventional society, Oscar remains a loving and loyal member of the Battle family and, in my opinion, the hero of the novel.
I have to be honest, I’m not usually a fan of the ‘diary’ format in fiction – I tend to find it a little gimmicky and pointless (although having said that I thoroughly enjoyed Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging!) I just think that a ‘true’ diary entry wouldn’t generally be coherent enough to tell a story – how many times do you ever recall full conversations in a diary? And if you’re not going to be authentic with it then why bother? But on this occasion I think I understand why French did this. It opens up such a broad platform for character development and this is what A Tiny Bit Marvellous is all about – understanding the characters through their deepest darkest thoughts and loving them despite their flaws. This made me as the reader completely appreciate (and applaud) the way in which, despite their own individual problems, they are able to pull together when it really matters. From Mo’s harassed ramblings to Dora’s angry outbursts and Oscar’s long winded soliloquies, I came away feeling like I really knew the characters. Surely that is always a sign of a good book?
It wasn’t without its faults. I found that the first half dragged a little and definitely enjoyed the drama of the final chapters a lot more. I also found Dora’s style a little monotonous and over the top at times. I see what French was trying to do but surely no real 17 year olds use the word ‘like’ quite so much. Do they? Despite that, I loved her vulgar insults and will definitely be purloining ‘twatty wonk’ for my very own! I also found the final twist a complete shock and was impressed at the way French steered the novel so that my original annoyance at Dora and sympathy with Mo totally reversed as the book went on.
Dawn French really does have a brilliant writing style – clever yet simple, moving yet hilarious and utterly adorned with her own unique brand of wit and eloquence. I can’t wait to read her next novel.