REVIEW: Lovesome by Sally Seltmann

In brief: Joni has a great life. Painting during the day and working in a restaurant at night. She’s happy, until her whirlwind friend Annabelle comes home. Then everything changes…

The good: It’s honest and Joni is an eager character.

The not-so-good: Joni is just too nice at times.

Why I chose it: Sounded interesting – thank you Allen & Unwin for the copy.

Year: 2018

Pages: 236

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Setting: Sydney, Australia

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Lovesome stuck out for me when I was reading a catalogue of upcoming books. I love books of women starting adult life (first job, post university etc.) and there simply aren’t enough of them set in Australia. I also love books about best friends who ending doing more harm than good, so Lovesome was a must read for me. It didn’t disappoint – it’s a sweetly innocent story of Joni, who delights in simple pleasures in her life. When best friend Annabelle returns from overseas, trouble follows her.

Joni is a delight. A rather naïve delight, but that’s partly what makes her character so engaging for the reader. She’s finished art college and lives in a little bungalow where she is painting for her first group exhibition. By night, she works at local French restaurant Harland. Her colleagues are her friends and she’s truly happy where she is. She’s friends with the chef and waits patiently for a scrap of praise from owner Lucy. Joni is doing her best to grow up in her own way – even if she is called out by her friends for being a late bloomer. She’s a sweet, cute character who is enthusiastic without a trace of cynicism. Joni is who we wish we were now.

But then her best friend Annabelle announces she’s returning home from London. No, New York. Joni didn’t even know she was there. Annabelle isn’t your usual gorgeous best friend with a mean streak. She’s a successful singer-songwriter and well known in Australia and has been trying her luck overseas. She’s fallen in love with another singer, recorded a duet with him, but is now coming home. It’s instantly a bit fishy to the reader that everything was so great Annabelle just needed to come home, but not so to Joni. Annabelle moves in and Joni’s ordered life is in disarray. At this point, my interest in Lovesome really picked up. It’s clear that Annabelle is Bad News (whether she intends to be or not). Annabelle becomes integrated with Joni’s life and it’s not good. Bringing boys home, leaving the place in a mess and then going after the one man Joni is interested in…well, it’s the last straw. Seeing Joni’s backbone become rigid and stainless steel is one of the highlights. It’s a coming of age that brings a tear to the eye.

Sally Seltmann’s debut novel is beautifully lyrical. She also conveys the simple Joy of Joni’s life beautifully – it’s not naff or overly sweet, but fits the character. Annabelle is also a well-crafted frenemy – feisty, flawed and kind of horrible but still fascinating. (I’d love to read a story from Annabelle’s point of view. It would be fast and full of calamities as she moves from one extreme to the next). Harland is a character in itself, as the restaurant holds possibilities, history and a heart of its own. It’s a lovely story, almost innocent in some ways as it casts the reader back to the days of records and phone boxes.

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