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Book Review: Sorting Out Billy by Jo Brand


Drew Payne

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Flower’s stand-up comic career is dead on its feet, Martha is pregnant but can’t remember who the father is, and Sarah’s slobbish boyfriend Billy has started to hit her. These three friends’ lives are intertwined by their friendship but they are also drawn together by Billy’s violent behaviour.

Women friends rallying around together to support a friend in trouble is almost a staple of so much Chic-Lit, but Jo Brand takes this premise and turns it into a darkly comic novel. This novel doesn’t sparkle with coffee shops and boutiques, this is a much gritter world of pubs, dirty flats and dingy comedy clubs, and it really benefits from it.

Here Jo Brand writes about a world that she knows well, her description of life on the bottom rung of the comedy club circuit is uncomfortably real. She also handles the relationships in this novel well, the friendship between the women and the nature of their relationships with their boyfriends. They all have the ring of real and messy relationships.

This was Jo Brand’s first novel and she creates and handles her characters well. There are plot twists that are also handled well, the characters not reacting to them out-of-character and the characters not having insights outside of their characterisation, no one suddenly shows insight out of the blue. Her writing style does owe a lot to writing comedic material, the jokes often coming from the author’s voice rather than the characters.

There are too many similes in her text; although many of them are very funny, they quickly start getting in the way of the story, and fewer would have been much better. The ending had an almost filmic set-piece quality to it, neatly tying all the plot strands. A messier ending may have suited the story better.

This was a first novel, and many writers learn their craft in their first novel, but its quality does bode well for her other novels after this one.

Find it here on Amazon

 

 

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