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March 19, 2007 | by  | in Books |
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Playing Friends

This book bills itself as a “thoroughly entertaining novel” filled with “wacky but believable characters”. Undisputedly, Playing Friends is a novel. The other claims are unfounded.

Ultimately, this book is about strange old people, annoying pregnant teenagers and imaginary friends from a ‘70s sitcom arguing like children. There is a messy birth, an implausible murder and some bad, bad sex. The result is about as entertaining as it sounds.

While attempting to be a meta-discourse on relationships and lies, Playing Friends is not even well written. While august literary digests such as the Horowhenua Mail and the Waikato Times have gushed over Duckworth’s previous books, her writing here is marred by overblown metaphors, similes and alliteration.

The narrative is derailed by constant and awkward use of lines like “the shadows poured like gravy over the inner city,” “the sky was as smooth a blue as the inside of Don’s favorite serving bowl” and “the till swallowed the money with a satisfied delunk!”

It is hard to see how the author got an OBE for services to literature when she produces writing such as: “making love can create a feeling as surely as a TV film, based on a true story, can create tears. Sniff.”

Perhaps she used up all her good word pictures in her first 14 novels.

The little details also jar a modern reader. While the author writes in way too much detail about the colour scheme of the last tram in Wellington, her 16 year old character is constantly listening to her Walkman. A Walkman? In 2007? Perhaps her portable gramophone was broken.

All the characters indulge in circular conversations and long flashbacks without ever really moving forward. The reader ends up with a better understanding of their eating habits than their real motivations.

The best thing about the clichéd and unrewarding ending is that it means the book is finished.

MARILYN DUCKWORTH

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Comments (2)

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  1. Dr. Nelson Wattie says:

    This “review” tells us nothing of value about the book but reveals some sad facts about the reviewer. He is 1. an incompetent reader, 2. an incompetent writer, 3. humourless, 4. hate-filled, 5. out of touch. On 1.: the book is explicitly set in 2002, not 2007, so that the anachronism is in the reviewer’s mind not the writer’s. He even refers to trams – in 2007? By reading it in the wrong time he must get practically everything wrong. ONE character has ONE imaginary friend. The quotations are inaccurate. The first, for example, actually reads (on page 43), “The valleys were wreathed in a greasy late-afternoon shadow, as if some large hand had poured gravy over the inner city.” What Miller thinks is “too much detail” is described in the DomPost by David Hill (famously a very competent reader and writer) as “positively, unflinchingly Wellington”. What the Miller thinks is “circular” and “not really moving forward” was described at the book launch as “the reader is drawn constantly on, wanting to see what happens next.” On 2.: the review is marred by the (sic!) constant and awkward use of hyperbole. “Word pictures” is a childish expression. The verb “jar” should be followed by “on”. “Way to much…” is far too American-colloquial for the context. On 3: what other readers have found delightfully amusing, Miller takes with plodding seriousness. On 4.: the tone of the review is curiously bad tempered. What has made Miller so bitter? His lack of an OBE? On 5.: Miller clearly understands zilch about people older than himself. All this means that he is to be pitied. But what are we to make of an editor who asks such an incompetent to review a novel? Sad prospects for NZ journalism.

  2. Neil Miller says:

    Well allow me to retort.

    “This “review” tells us nothing of value about the book but reveals some sad facts about the reviewer.”

    Not true. The review indicates I think the book is of little value.

    The comment also shows that “Dr” Wattie prefers to begin with a personal attack.

    “He is 1. an incompetent reader,”

    Not true.

    “2. an incompetent writer,”

    People pay me plenty of money to write.

    “3. humourless,”

    That is the trouble with making wild generalisations. Couldn’t be more wrong.

    “4. hate-filled,”

    No evidence.

    “5. out of touch.”

    Ludicrous.

    “On 1.: the book is explicitly set in 2002, not 2007, so that the anachronism is in the reviewer’s mind not the writer’s. He even refers to trams – in 2007?”

    Hahaha – the book refers to trams in too much detail. Who is the incompetent reader now?

    “By reading it in the wrong time he must get practically everything wrong.”

    Is this a real sentence?

    “ONE character has ONE imaginary friend.”

    Is this is a real rebuttal? He is a major character.

    The quotations are inaccurate. The first, for example, actually reads (on page 43), “The valleys were wreathed in a greasy late-afternoon shadow, as if some large hand had poured gravy over the inner city.”

    The quotations are accurate. Defend the use of “delunk” as a word. Or making love as crying during a tv film.

    “What Miller thinks is “too much detail” is described in the DomPost by David Hill (famously a very competent reader and writer) as “positively, unflinchingly Wellington”. What the Miller thinks is “circular” and “not really moving forward” was described at the book launch as “the reader is drawn constantly on, wanting to see what happens next.”

    Apparently reviewers are allowed to have different opinions.

    On 2.: the review is marred by the (sic!) constant and awkward use of hyperbole. “Word pictures” is a childish expression. The verb “jar” should be followed by “on”. “Way to much…” is far too American-colloquial for the context.

    You spelt “too” wrong therefore everything you say is wrong (by your logic). You must also be an incompetent writer.

    “On 3: what other readers have found delightfully amusing, Miller takes with plodding seriousness.”

    Mainly because it is not funny or ironic.

    “On 4.: the tone of the review is curiously bad tempered. What has made Miller so bitter? His lack of an OBE?”

    Probably reading the book. My other work is generally filled with love.

    “On 5.: Miller clearly understands zilch about people older than himself. All this means that he is to be pitied. But what are we to make of an editor who asks such an incompetent to review a novel? Sad prospects for NZ journalism.”

    Given that “Dr” has no idea how old I am, I can not see how this can be justified.

    The comments with a personal attack on the editor.

    Classy.

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