REVIEW:The Girl on the Page by John Purcell

In brief: Amy is an editing genius but when her new boss asks her to force a commercial novel from a literary great, it challenges even her.

The good: it’s fun – loud, honest and brash.

The not-so-good: The ending – so unexpected!

Why I chose it: Thank you to Harper Collins for the ARC.

Year: 2018

Pages: 380 (ARC)

Publisher: 4th Estate (Harper Collins)

Setting: London

Rating: 9 out of 10

The Girl on the Page has been getting a lot of positive media coverage in Australia lately. It sounded like my kind of book – a heroine who couldn’t care less what the world thinks about her, life in publishing and two reclusive literary authors. So naturally I jumped in and started reading. The first thing I noticed is the writing. John Purcell’s writing is easy to read and easy to relate to – you’re in Amy’s world now, lock, stock and barrel. Amy is also a unique character as she should be unlikeable – but she isn’t. Whether that’s due to the chapters told by her in the first person or that none of the other characters disliked her wholly, I’m not sure.

The first thing the reader notices is that Amy is in a world of her own. She’s a brilliant enigma in the publishing world – she gets excellent results from her authors, even if the methods of pushing them to their brilliance is unorthodox. She’s also primarily self-taught with a lot of gumption – she got her start by retyping a mediocre thriller and editing it, then sending it to the author with a proposal. That’s how Amy became half of the wizardry behind the bestselling Jack Cade thriller novels. Amy’s personal life is also unorthodox. She jumps anything that’s on offer and shuns long-term relationships after having her heart broken. She’s also wealthy with no need to work, but usually rocks up to work at the publishing house drunk. If she bothers. She’s also extraordinarily beautiful. So really, everyone should hate her – a stunning, foul mouthed genius. But Amy has a vulnerability that is not fully exposed until she’s given the task of finding literary great Helen Ryan’s overdue manuscript. This involves moving into the flat below the townhouse Helen and husband Malcolm bought with the advance. Helen’s terrified she will lose the first glimpse of luxury she’s seen at the cost of selling out, going commercial. Her husband Malcolm believes she’s already sold out, grieving for the loss of their old life and refuses to read any more of her work. This is happening as Malcolm’s ‘horrible little book’ is longlisted for the Booker Prize and he’s thrust into the spotlight with meme-worthy results. As Amy works through Helen’s versions of the novel, she gets entangled in their lives. This leads her to question her current lifestyle and what she truly values. Helen and Malcolm do this too, but separately in a grief stricken way. All the characters circle around each other and don’t seek help until the last possible point, meaning that the ending turns out to be incredibly unexpected! (I’m not sure how else the book could have ended, but I wasn’t expecting that).

The Girl on the Page references a lot of books, authors and literary figures from Australia and worldwide. A recurring theme asks, what is literature and who defines that? Helen, Amy and Malcolm all have varying thoughts on the topic. Amy’s co-writer Liam (of Jack Cade fame) also desperately wants to be seen as a literary author, but his thoughts on this path are confused. But who is right? All the characters offer some insight into their perceptions and prejudices but ultimately there is no one truth. (As it should be!)

This is a book that combines the wild ride of a thriller novel with the insightful exploration of life of a slower paced, more literary novel. It’s certainly a ride I enjoyed.

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