Within Me, Within You, Feels Like Karma

I know, I know, any excuse to throw in a musical reference in the title, eh? Two points to whoever first correctly identifies it.

Anyway, I’ve just finished reading a book called Karma by fellow blogger (and Mike Parr survivor) Holly A. Harvey called Karma. I recently met her at Border’s bookshop on the Team Valley in Gateshead at an event to cover Gateshead Council’s Short Story Competition 2008, where picked up a signed copy of the book. Well, when I say “picked up” I mean “picked up and then paid for“, of course.

I’d read the first twenty pages that same night, and had emailed Holly to tell her I’d laughed out loud several times, and also to say that:

the pressure is on… will the rest of the book live up to the high standard of the start??Me, via email

Well, did it?

Pretty much, to be honest. Basically, the synopsis is that Paige is a 28 year old woman who suffers from debt, chronic fatigue syndrome and constantly being put upon (or allowing herself to be treated like a doormat, depending on how you’d rather phrase it), and it covers her life in the build up to, and aftermath of, a 10-year school reunion.

This was a little worrying — partly because I was reading chick-lit, which isn’t really MCOT — and partly because after listening to her radio interview with Mike Parr (we’re both “Mike Parr Survivors”) I’d got the impression there were at least some parralels between Holly and Paige, so I was hoping Holly hadn’t had quite as rough a time of it as Paige had…

However, there were some beautiful descriptions — particularly of the Geordie “Girl’s night out” and of “drunk girl at teenage party” which made me laugh — because I’ve certainly seen those people before myself:

For most twenty-eight year olds, Friday night is a blur. You go out in sub-zero temperatures in an outfit that would make a stripper blush, with fifty quid in a handbag the size of a matchbox. After dancing for eight hours, you stand in a huge queue for a taxi, only to get to the front and realise it’s the queue for Mick’s hot dog stand and there isn’t a taxi in sight. In the morning, you realise you can’t remember how you got home, you’re wearing a man’s jacket and you now only have a foreign coin and a condom (unused) in your purse.Holly A. Harvey’s “Karma”

By nine twenty-five, I recall sitting on Sarah’s stairs beside Craig (the object of Sarah’s adoration some years ago), taking turns to vomit into a Co-op carrier bag. This odd puke-relay was interrupted a couple of times for me to burst into tears due to the fact that Tom didn’t fancy me (”Tomdoesntwannuz, nooobodywantzuz”). Unfortunately, this was done in full view of everyone, anyone, nobodies, somebody… and the man himself!Holly A. Harvey’s “Karma”

If you don’t like books with self-deprecating humour, you won’t like this. If you do, however, and you’re either into chick-lit or aren’t actively frightened by books about, you know, relationships and stuff, then I think you’d enjoy it. Get yourself down to Borders and buy it. Go to Amazon and order it. Or better yet, go to one of the other bookshops that don’t yet stock it and demand that they do because you want to buy it from them…

Now where was I? Oh yes. Holly had revealed on her blog that she’d seen a bad review somewhere where someone had said:

I can’t see why words like arse and fart have to come out of a twenty something year olds mouth when it’s her internal dialogue.online review

Well, fuck me backwards — whoever wrote that isn’t likely to like Irvine Welsh much, are they? And for that matter, my experience is that the majority of twenty-somethings do use words like “arse” and “fart” in their internal dialogue. As well as many more — shall we say robust? — terms. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t even notice the words “arse” or “fart” occur, but that’s probably because they don’t register any particularly strong feelings with me.

Indeed, if anything, I would have suggested Holly’s characters external dialogue was more polite than I’m used to, but maybe that’s just because my mates aren’t quite as refined as Holly’s are…

What I also enjoyed was that one minor character had a very broad Geordie accent (now with added slang!) — just enough to lend a little local colour and authenticity, but not so much that (as Irvine Welsh books can do) the book becomes difficult to follow.

The book held my attention well — I stayed up until about 3 a.m. to finish it — and I certainly felt I cared about the character (although mentally I had to keep correcting myself and call her “Paige” as my head kept telling me “Holly”). The plot was a nice mixture of stuff; the main plot thread (the reunion) was woven through with other plot threads relating to debt, her sister’s impending wedding, office politics, and a touch of homelessness (the one time where I think the book maybe got a little schmaltzy for my taste).

There were plot twists and surprises, a couple of which I predicted successfully (that’s possibly more me than the book though, as I seem to do that a lot when reading books and watching films, where other people haven’t expected it) and a few surprises I wasn’t expecting either; particularly quite late on there were a pair of them that completely took me by surprise. But I guess most good books are like that: some people will spot some of the plot twists, some people will spot some of the other ones… and no-one will get them all.

I’d said to Holly after the first twenty pages that:

I read a lot of [stuff] and think “I could do better than that”. With [this] it’s the sort of writing that makes me think “I would be proud to have written that”Me, private email

And while I don’t think I’d exactly want to be known for writing chick-lit about an angst-filled woman in her early thirties, if I did, then I’d have been proud to have written something as real, as believable, as well-observed, with such deliciously funny descriptions (particularly when being self-deprecating), and generally as good a read as Karma.

Well done Holly. I’m not surprised you won the Undiscovered Authors prize for it. Now get cracking on your next one…

2 Responses to “Within Me, Within You, Feels Like Karma”

  1. ThePickards » Blog Archive » Lyn’s Email Meme Transmogrified responds:

    [...] I’m not. I’ve just finished reading Karma, by Holly A. Harvey. Weren’t you listening? [...]

  2. Holly responds:

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to read this - thanks for such a nice review!

    Fortunately, I don’t share Paige’s experiences - it’s only within the past year that my life has begun to resemble a novel… Very little schmaltz (aw, come on - it’s a pink chick lit book, it had to have some).

    Maybe the next one should be a biography (although I’m not a ‘celebrity’, so maybe not…)

    Hope you and your family have a great Christmas!

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