All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Girl On The Page by John Purcell

on October 15, 2018

The Girl On The Page
John Purcell
4th Estate
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Two women, two great betrayals, one path to redemption. A punchy, powerful and page-turning novel about the redemptive power of great literature, from industry insider, John Purcell.

Amy Winston is a hard-drinking, bed-hopping, hot-shot young book editor on a downward spiral. Having made her name and fortune by turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child, Amy is given the unenviable task of steering literary great Helen Owen back to publication.

When Amy knocks on the door of their beautiful townhouse in north west London, Helen and her husband, the novelist Malcolm Taylor, are conducting a silent war of attrition. The townhouse was paid for with the enormous seven figure advance Helen was given for the novel she wrote to end fifty years of making ends meets on critical acclaim alone. The novel Malcolm thinks unworthy of her. The novel Helen has yet to deliver. The novel Amy has come to collect.

Amy has never faced a challenge like this one. Helen and Malcolm are brilliant, complicated writers who unsettle Amy into asking questions of herself – questions about what she values, her principles, whether she has integrity, whether she is authentic. Before she knows it, answering these questions becomes a matter of life or death.

From ultimate book industry insider, John Purcell, comes a literary page-turner, a ferocious and fast-paced novel that cuts to the core of what it means to balance ambition and integrity, and the redemptive power of great literature.

As a lover of books, both the stories themselves and also the process of producing them, I really enjoy books that are set in the world of publishing. There’s something about them that really appeals to me – a glimpse behind the scenes, getting to know an author’s process but also editing as well as actual publishing, launch and promotion. And if you’re like me and enjoy that sort of stuff too then this book is definitely for you.

I absolutely loved this, from pretty much the first page. Amy is an editor who sort of blackmailed her way into her career and she’s an editor with a difference. She is roped in to coaxing a novel already paid for with a fat advance from literary mastermind Helen Owen, which is already well overdue. The publishing company need that novel and they need it to be a commercial success, despite the fact that Helen has always been an author with more critical success. Helen only works in hard copy and so Amy goes to stay with her and her husband Malcolm, also an author. They’ve moved from the flat they lived in together for almost fifty years to a modern new place with Helen’s fat advance and a lot is riding on Amy being able to find the gold in Helen’s work. Because if she doesn’t deliver, the publishers are coming to take their advance back.

Amy is equal parts amazing and a complete mess. She’s so smart when it comes to books and publishing and I absolutely love the way she went out there and grabbed her career by the balls basically and made it happen for her after too many rejections trying to get in the ‘regular’ way. She’s spun her own success, although much of it is a secret. Her vision is so good and she knows when she sees Helen’s work that she faces a real dilemma. As she spends more and more time with Helen and Malcolm, she begins to fall in love with them as writers and as people. Before meeting Helen, Amy had not read any of her prior work and at Malcolm’s urging, she reads her entire backlist. Amy has so many ideas about what she could do with Helen, none of which her publisher bosses would be interested in and she’s somewhat wasted editing blockbusters that admittedly, net her huge amounts of profit.

There are a lot of jokes, bookish references and gentle jabs at the book industry here. I’m currently slogging my way through 2018’s Man Booker short list (although that’s a bit inaccurate, I’m actually halfway through my first read and it’s fantastic, but I anticipate some will be slogs). Malcolm’s most recent book was long listed (then short listed) and neither Malcolm, nor Helen, to be honest, react in the expected way to accolades and neither of them expect him to win – after all, they’ve opened it up to the Americans now! Malcolm is a gruff old goat at first, seemingly a bit of a grump and cranky about their nice new digs and their separate offices but I came to have such affection for him the further the book went on. He’s so passionate about writing, about who they are and where they come from. He doesn’t see this new place as them any more than the book they want Helen to write to sell is who she is. He’s a huge admirer of his wife’s work, believes her to have one of the best minds of the modern era and it actually kind of blinds him in a way. This book took me to places I did not expect when I picked it up – the journey is laughter, appreciation, admiration and heartbreak. I’ve read that a few people have struggled with the character of Amy, presumably because she sort of acts like the heroes in the blockbuster novels she edits – she drinks far too much, she sleeps around an awful lot and she’s self destructing due to something she did in the past that haunts her. It’s all behaviour that we see a lot of from men in books and I wonder if it’s confronting to see it detailed so unabashedly in a female character. I enjoyed Amy for her passion – she didn’t have to work but she loved what she did so much. She makes some mistakes but she manages to be clever enough to keep herself in the game when others would have her out.

This is obviously written by someone that loves books – and I know most, if not all, authors love books. But this is more than that, it’s about the whole process. Not just the writing and the publishing but the debate and the sales and the talk. Literary and commercial, prize winners and whether or not women specific prizes or accolades are really necessary. There’s so much poured into this, it’s like every conversation I’ve ever had with someone who loves books as much as I do, in book form. And there’s a list of book recommendations from each character and the author at the back….which is perfection. I just love this idea, that we can get a snapshot into their reading tastes and can take further reading from the characters if we so choose. Quite a few books I’ve read but there are plenty I haven’t and if you relate to a particular character you have a few books to dive into after finishing this one! It’s a nice little touch.


Book #172 of 2018


One response to “Review: The Girl On The Page by John Purcell

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