Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

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Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

Buy Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: After being disappointed by Dawn French's first novel I found this a much better experience, moving and somehow, for a story about a patient in a coma, rather uplifting.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: October 2012
Publisher: Michael Joseph
ISBN: 978-0718156060

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When Dawn French wrote her first novel A Tiny Bit Marvellous I was eager to read it, looking forward to plenty of silly humour and those elusive-when-reading out loud laughs. I was disappointed unfortunately, and actually came away from the book feeling annoyed with the characters and quite discouraged and depressed somehow. So, I approached her new novel with a little trepidation, unsure as to whether she deserved a second chance. I'm glad I gave her the benefit of the doubt!

The Silvia of the title is a lady in a coma in hospital and although she is the central character of the story we don't really actually hear from her and, instead, it's the cast of characters who come to visit her who create the character of Silvia for us. Each chapter is about an individual character, often running as their own monologue of their thoughts about Silvia or the things they have to say to her. These characters range from Silvia's family members, her friend, her cleaner to her nurse, Winnie, who really felt like the lynch-pin for the whole story. Each character comes along to visit Silvia, for various different reasons, and through the things they have to say we learn about them as well as about Silvia.

I felt unsure of the style initially. Some of the characters felt a little too bonkers and I was worried the book would end up feeling forced with these character-based chapters. However, the jumps between Silvia's visitors ends up working really well. The characters are all very well portrayed, and the only one I felt was perhaps played for laughs a little too much was Silvia's cleaner, Tia, although even she has her own little back story going on and so she isn't only there to be funny. My opinion of each of the characters changed, in some cases quite dramatically, as the story progressed and it's very clever, the way different aspects of each person are revealed and then later explained, and the secrets and lies that emerge are perfectly placed and result in a very moving read.

Winnie is, by far, my favourite character. I felt myself looking forward to her chapters and hoping that if I were unlucky enough to ever have to spend some time in hospital that I would be blessed with a nurse like Winnie. Although her character initially provides a balance against the others who actually know Silvia by the end her role is crucial, not just for Silvia but for many of her visitors too. Winnie goes on something of a journey through the story, as do all the characters really as they each grow and change through the book, as result of Silvia's mysterious coma and their own responses to that.

The themes of the novel, guilt and family, secrets and love, are handled really well. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone, but the familial relationships in the story I found were incredibly moving towards the end. It's a story about loss and saying goodbye, but it's also a story about finding the truth and finding love. I was surprised by how emotionally uplifting the story ultimately was and it certainly redeemed Dawn French as a writer for me. I didn't laugh out loud, but I did snigger a few times and there are some funny moments but really, don't read this expecting a comedy sketch, it's a great story just as it is and next time I won't hesitate in picking up one of her books.

If you're interested in finding out more about Dawn herself then try Dear Fatty. If you're looking for more fiction then you might enjoy To The Edge of Shadows by Joanne Graham. We can also recommend The Last Thing I Remember by Deborah Bee.

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Buy Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French at Amazon.com.


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