Book Review. Camera Girl by Doreen Spooner.

This book runs the gamut of one woman’s life. It begins in the present day of Doreen’s domestic life in the 1960’s, where she discovers the debts, and alcoholism, of her French husband. Previously a photographer in Fleet Street, Doreen gave up her career to raise their 2 children. When she makes this discovery, Doreen must return to work.

The narrative then takes us back to Doreen’s childhood. Her mother suffers a miscarriage and that triggers a depression that lasted throughout her life. Her mother’s story is a familiar one for women of that time. She became carer (i.e. skivvy) to a deaf mother, live in grandparents and siblings. This was what was expected of the eldest child.

‘domesticity became her reason for living. Somehow, like millions of other women in those days, she persuaded herself it was the highest calling a woman could have,’

Doreen’s father was where her love of photography came from. He had an editorial role at a largely distributed newspaper at the time The Daily Herald. It is he who encouraged Doreen to achieve her dream of being a photographer.

While in a school of photography, as a young woman, Doreen observed this,

‘all these people wanted to create were pretty paintings, smooth glossy images of bland perfection shot beside an urn with roses or a pair of fake French windows,’

Remind you of anything?

In those days in London, Fleet Street was the place newspapers were put together. It was also no place a woman was expected to want to work. Doreen didn’t care for that. From school we join Doreen in her early journey of capturing on film Lapland, America, Einstein and young royalty. She accompanied famous photographers at the time and learnt her craft.

Back home, Doreen found herself at a crossroads. She was invited by a friend to France, where work was available. This is where Doreen finds romance and her future husband. The narrative tos and fros between France and England, as they marry and have children.

This is when we return to where the book started, where Doreen’s husband is a struggling photographer and is also finding it hard to fit in with English culture. Doreen’s return to work as a newspaper photographer is a success, but this also causes friction within the marriage.

Doreen’s husband slowly retreats into his alcoholism and he loses virtually everything, as eventually Doreen is unable to help him and ends their marriage.

This book has many human stories and it’s a great read. One of my favourites.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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My Thoughts on the beautifully written Shelf Life by Livia Franchini

Ruth is thirty years old. She works as a nurse in a care home and her fiance has just broken up with her. The only thing she has left of him is their shopping list for the upcoming week.

Starting with six eggs, and working through spaghetti and strawberries, apples and tea bags, this inventive novel builds a picture of a woman defined by the people she serves; her patients, her friends, and, most of all, her partner of ten years. Without him, Ruth needs to find out – with conditioner and single cream and a lot of sugar – who she is when she stands alone.

With her fresh unpredictable style, Franchini skewers modern relationships and toxic masculinity, moving effortlessly between humour and heartbreak to tell the story of a woman rebuilding herself on her own terms.

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Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Oh no, this is going to be negative.

First off, the synopsis isn’t accurate. Don’t expect what the synopsis tells you.

I wasn’t sure about the shopping list idea, its execution. The book has the narrative in the format of dreams and emails. Skipped some of that because I didn’t find it relevant.

The characters are not likable. Ruth is the protagonist and I liked her in some of the parts of the book. I could relate to her confusion of social cues, friendships and sexual experiences. It took me a while to read Shelf Life because I felt disinterested and distant from the characters. Ruth’s ex is a worry. He’s a worrying character.

There is no doubt the writing is excellent. It might be enough for me to read another book in the future by the author.  The hardback book, which I borrowed from my public library, is beautiful. The story itself was muddled.

Disappointed.


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