Life According to Lubka by Laurie Graham

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Life According to Lubka by Laurie Graham

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Quick, sharp and funny. An easy, enjoyable story that would be great for a holiday read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 360 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
ISBN: 978-1849161824

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Buzz Wexler is at the top of her game, working in music PR with all the latest up and coming Urban music bands like Grime Beat and Evil Marsupial. She's forty-two years old but is still out every night, drinking, eating very little and seemingly surviving on a diet of chemical mood enhancers. One day, however, she is called into her manager's office and assigned a tour with a 'World Music' group, the Gorni Grannies, a group of elderly women from Bulgaria who sing together. Buzz finds her life in the fast lane is brought to a sudden halt, as she tries to control a group of elderly ladies touring England who think that lifts are powered by black magic and that Poundland is the best shop ever invented. Yet this is just the beginning of a whole new life for Buzz.

I didn't actually like Buzz very much. She's very hard, sassy and totally self-centred. I think you're supposed to find she grows on you by the end, but I must confess that I still didn't like her much then! Still, she is an excellent foil for the Gorni Grannies, and I liked the way that through the story you sometimes get the same events being described from not just Buzz's point of view, but also from Olga's diaries which are very funny. The Grannies themselves also provide a lot of the humour within the story, especially with Kichka who is a kleptomaniac and lifts things, mostly useless things, from wherever they go. The sweet little lady called Stanka turns out to be part of a Bulgarian mafia family and has two rough bodyguards taking care of her on tour, whilst Dora has no teeth and keeps phoning home to speak to her sheep.

A lot of the humour relates to language, with Olga mistranslating at every turn and the Grannies' funny comments about England compared to what they're used to at home. I did enjoy the style, and the humour, but I also felt guilty for laughing at someone who is basically poking fun at Eastern Europeans. I'm not entirely sure that it was always quite right, and it made me feel a little awkward since I have some good friends from Eastern Europe. To be fair though, there are other moments with British characters too who are a little bit, well, slow shall we say, including an assistant in Buzz's office who tells Buzz that a colleague has gone to the hospital to the department of 'topical diseases' which made me laugh out loud.

Although the ringleader of the Grannies, Lubka, appears in the book's title I actually felt she wasn't as well depicted as she should have been. She doesn't seem to develop as a full character, and I struggled to see why there was a burgeoning friendship between Lubka and Buzz developing until quite far into the story. The friendship didn't ring true for me really. I think my favourite character was actually Olga, the translator, who is terribly officious and reminded me of the wonderful Grace Makutsi from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. She struggles to keep a rein on the Gorni Grannies, worried that they are giving Bulgaria a bad name, improperly representing their proud communist history, and under-valuing her translation skills (which are, sadly, very ropey). I thought she was really well written, so terribly sincere, so incredibly irritating, yet you can't help but warm to her. I also liked Buzz's assistant, Mal who is dryly funny and terribly sensible, and I would've liked him to have played a bigger part in the story.

This was a fun, upbeat novel and although I have a few quibbles with it I did enjoy it, and I raced through it easily, so it's perfect for a lighthearted read on the beach.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For another unlikeable heroine, but one who will actually grow on you then try Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom by Julie Cohen or for a light-hearted romp you might like to try Notting Hell by Rachel Johnson. We've also enjoyed A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham.

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