Book Review: Various Pets Alive And Dead

Various Pets Alive And Dead by Marina Lewycka

The blurb: Marcus and Doro were part of a left wing commune from the late 1960s until the early 1990s: lentils, free love, spliffs, Left politics, cheesecloth blouses, sex, housework and cooking rotas, crochet, allotments. Their children have grown up rather different from them: primary schoolteacher Clara craves order and clean bathrooms, son Serge is pretending to his parents that he is still doing a Maths PhD at Cambridge, while in fact working making loadsa money in the City; third child Oolie Anna, who has Downs Syndrome, is desperate to escape home and live on her own. Set half in Doncaster, half in London, this is a very funny riff on modern values, featuring hamsters, cockroaches, poodles, a Chicken and multiplying rabbits, told by Marina Lewycka in her unique and brilliant combination of irony, farce and wit.

My review: From the author of one of the funniest books on the planet: A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian comes a novel about an unconventional family who grew up in a commune, slightly with misplaced ideals, or more appropriately just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A quick aside cover note, I loved the old style covers for these books, I’ll add a post with them in but these new covers do nothing for this brilliant story teller.

I really wanted to love this book, my partner has also read We Are All Made Of Glue and swears by Lewycka’s wit and humour but the examples of that were limited here. The story focuses to my mind primarily on Serge, the elder son who is working for a bank in the city and it’s poorer for that. Serge’s story of hedge funds and number crunching just doesn’t have the scope for the brilliantly funny insight that Lewycka can bring to her characters. I found I didnt care about him at all. There was such room here for it to be great and I felt that the focus was split on too many elements that didn’t come together in the final mixing pot.

The commune in Doncaster was a very clever idea, if the book had been set there it would have been a riot, but the city with it’s bankers and emotionless idiots, getting drunk on too much champagne held no humour for me. I found it a real struggle to even make it to the end of the book. Doro and Marcus are wonderful characters and I would have liked to have seen more of them.

This won’t stop me from going back to Lewycka’s other two books but with a slight hesitation.

5 out of 10 stars! *****

BUY ME! Various Pets Alive and Dead

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