Marguerite Kaye's Reviews > Various Pets Alive and Dead

Various Pets Alive and Dead by Marina Lewycka
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May 18, 12

Read from May 07 to 11, 2012

I'm giving this 3, but I have very mixed feelings about it. I thought 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian' was really funny, 'Two Caravans' less so, but still a good read, but this one - it just didn't really work for me, and the overriding reason I think was that it tried to hard to be ironic about something that we're still too close to to be funny - the economic crisis.

It's almost impossible to have any sympathy for brokers at the moment, or anyone who tried to make a killing out of toxic mortgages. It's not even, IMHO, possible to make a joke of the thing, and the problem with this story is that the London Stock Exchange/Serge part of the book sat too much on the fence. On the one hand, we were supposed to see Serge as an innocent abroad, on the other Serge was an intelligent man with a very socialist upbringing, and on the other, okay compared to lots of his colleagues he was just playing, but he was still breaking every ethical rule. Ultimately he didn't benefit, but he wasn't punished either. This may be representative of reality, but it doesn't work for me in fiction because the net result was 'so what'.

There were aspects of the story that were quite funny, but only quite. Like lots of the other reviewers, I liked the Doncaster parts much more. The problem is that there was too much of the same thing as in the previous two books, in terms of a scatter-gun of colourful characters all inter-linked with a lot of politics, but it just didn't have that lightness of touch, it felt forced, and it also felt, frankly, quite cliched. The whole commune, socialist, free love thing, has been done to death and was like a bit of limp, over-washed linen. The other issue was that the narrative maintained so much of a distance from the characters, and juggled so many points of view, that you never really invested your empathy in any of them, which meant, sadly, that I got to the end not really caring. Which is a pity, because I wanted to like this. I hope that her next is better, though I think I'd wait util it came out in my local library rather than buying it.
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