Playing With The Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl

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Playing With The Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: The story of Kitty's obscure childhood on both sides of the Atlantic, with a host of weird and wonderful characters, this is a sweet book, but it lacks that best-seller je ne sais quoi.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747577775

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Kitty is happily married, pregnant with her first child and settled into a life in New York when she receives an urgent middle of the night phone call from her younger sister, Violet. Something has happened to their mother, and she is being summoned urgently back home to England. As she sets off, she begins to think back to the secrets of her childhood, her transatlantic upbringing and, ultimately, the essence of her relationship with her mother.

This is a modern day fairy tale, about a magical life with an extraordinary mother whose lifestyle is a whirlwind of glamorous parties, short-lived men, all-consuming religion and mind-altering drugs. Kitty is wrenched from pillar to post, left behind alone at boarding school then beckoned to New York with the rest of the family before being up-rooted back to a now unfamiliar London. As an only child for much of her life before her half brother and sister come along, she is used to being in the company of adults, but when she starts to become an adult herself, she has to decide whether to play dangerous games with the grown ups, or step back and act her age.

The book is very descriptive and virtually every noun is qualified in some way - her grandfather's eyes aren't just blue, they're arctic blue, whilst Nora the nanny's are steel-blue. Her first night at boarding school involves foreign sheets, checked pyjamas and a scratchy nametag. When it comes, there is a damp, pervasive rain, and through the fax machine arrive a positively gushing river of faxes. And yet, so much time is spent on the visual, that feelings and emotions of the characters are sometimes neglected. Kitty, for example, is a peculiar girl to understand. Not in a nice, mysterious character sort of way, but in a quite unpredictable and hard to work out one, and though I liked her during the book, I felt I didn't really know very much about her by the end.

As I read this book I was touched by the many, many intricate details of growing up in 20th century Britain that permeated throughout the book. Each page contains one observation after another of the way people like Kitty and her mother lived and behaved, and these make the book reassuringly familiar. But though these acute observations are knitted tightly together, the result is still a book that doesn't really go anywhere, and the gap between when the recollections end, and the point Kitty is at now is sadly vast.

Though I enjoyed the story, I thought there were huge gaps in it, and it read as if the writer herself could see the whole picture, but hadn't thought to fill in all of the background, so you the reader could see all the things that were happening in Kitty's life at that point, but struggled to understand the context or the cause of many of them. I wanted to know why calling her grandparents Bestepapa and Bestemama didn't make them somehow more exciting than if they'd switched to the English Granddad and Granny, and I felt more could have been done with their Scandinavian heritage which is mentioned only a couple of times - if the story's not going to go there, why keep the names? Re-reading the jacket blurb after I'd finished helped immensely because it sums up the key points of the story extremely clearly, pointing you in the direction of what were the important points you were supposed to grasp. It made me see what was trying to be achieved, parts of which I really didn't get from the story itself. I suppose I expected this book to be a bit better, partly from its presentation (sorry, judging a book by its cover again), partly because of its author (if you're a supermodel who turns to writing, I'm going to expect you to be fantastic at it, to ward off any criticism about being just another pretty face) and partly because the blurb on Amazon makes it sound different and intriguing. Comparing like with like, I'd say this book is a fair attempt at proper fiction, but if I were to put it up against some of the chick-ier lit-ier titles out there, this would win hands down. It's good, I just didn't think it was great.

Thank you to the publishers for supplying this book.

For a completely different style of memoir, have a look at Shorty Loves Wing Wong or Keeping Mum.

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Buy Playing With The Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Playing With The Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Playing With The Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Playing With The Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl at


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