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Oh Dear Silvia - Dawn French

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6 Reviews

Author: Dawn French / Hardcover / 352 Pages / Book is published 2012-10-25 by Michael Joseph

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    6 Reviews
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      25.11.2013 20:48
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      Fantastic, so glad I picked it up.

      First off, don't worry, I shan't write about anything which includes spoilers.

      SPOILER FREE. NO SPOILERS.

      Moving on, the book revolves around a central character: Silvia Shute. The story begins with her going off a balcony and plummeting into a coma that she can't seem to wake up from. The story is told from the perspective of the people that come to visit her.

      Because of this we see Silvia in several different lights, it was a great idea in that we all mean different things to different people. A mum, friend, wife, sister, lover, all these things. Sometimes we don't realise how little or how much we mean to someone and this novel explores those ideas.

      We see the story unfold as these people, friends and family, all come to visit and are told talking to her hopefully might some day rouse her from her coma. And so they do.

      It was a great read, really insightful and quite upsetting as Dawn French wrote this at the same time as her mother dying, apparently her own mother gave her permission to write about the experience and so the book feels all the more honest and open in it's account of the people and the setting surrounding the book.

      We see Miss Shute's almost lifeless body addressed by her daughter, friend, ex husband, crazy sister and even the nurse makes a few chapters her own. The different voices are brilliantly written by Dawn, the dialects are so easy to pick up I found myself laughing as I read. Dawn knows how to write comedy, and she does it brilliantly in this book but from an emotional standing rather than a 'hey I wrote a book to laugh at.'

      Because of this, the book is genuinely upsetting, there are some scenes I found myself crying at. This doesn't usually happen to me with literature but here we see an image we all hate to be in, in a hospital room speaking to someone who might not ever speak again. We all know we talk differently to people in that situation and so they do. They let out secrets and feelings that they wouldn't have said otherwise and they're heart-wrenching.

      Now, of course, we wonder...did Silvia fall? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Read and find out, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Juxtaposed to the hilarious commentary from each character, the storyline itself is one of mystery and speculation throughout. You find yourself guessing the whole way though, how did she end up there? The questions burn the whole way through and Dawn extends the suspense brilliantly.

      My only criticism is that it had to end...and I so didn't want it to, it was so brilliantly written and I can't wait for future novels from the wonderful, the hilarious, Dawn French.

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        24.09.2013 14:24
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        French's second novel, dark and gritty rather than side-splittingly funny.

        A family member gifted me Dawn French's second novel 'Oh Dear Silvia' to read whilst I recover from a broken toe. Although this is not usually the type of book I would normally choose to read I did hear a lot about the book when Dawn French was publicising it and I thought that the premise sounded intelligent and interesting. After reading the art critic's glowing responses to the novel which are printed on the book cover I was also quite eager to get started.

        I have the paperback version of the book which contains 342 pages of content as well as a reading group guide and an extract of French's first fiction novel 'A Tiny Bit Marvellous'. This novel was first published in 2012 and then in 2013 by Penguin Books. It became a number 1 bestseller and was a critical success gaining review comments like "Hilarious. My top book" (The Times) and "Side splitting, darkly humorous" (Heat). The novel is teased by the author and the publishers as being a drama about a woman called Silvia Shute who is in a coma and who "hides a secret". This "truth about Silvia is slowly revealed" according to the description on the book cover.

        When I heard Dawn French talking about how this novel is composed I thought it sounded like a very unique and clever idea. As Silvia lies in her coma characters enter her hospital room and converse with her. Each chapter focuses on whichever character is visiting Silvia and the tone and style of the text changes to reflect the differences in these characters. French has a real talent for stepping into the skins of her characters and I felt that her portrayal of most characters in the novel was excellent. French is particularly good at dialogue and being able to find an authentic voice for her characters. I was particularly in love with one of the characters, Tia, as she was so realistic and relatable. However, there is a jarring incongruity with other characters like Silvia's sister Jo, whose whacky behaviour would only ever be acceptable within the set of a TV sitcom. I also thought that French's portrayal of the villain of the piece was slightly naïve and juvenile.

        As I progressed through the novel I began to realise that there is a touch of repetition, especially mid-novel, as certain characters re-visit Silvia and essentially say and think the same things they said and thought a few chapters ago. Although we learn more about Silvia's life the supposed secret and hook of the story does not as much unfold gradually as suddenly appear towards the end of the novel. I feel like French's ability to craft a suspenseful story is a little undercooked.

        Since French is an amazing comedienne and this story is postulated as one that "will make you laugh with delight" (Heat) I imagined it would be a lot more hopeful and light-hearted. It is easier to laugh at and with the characters earlier in the novel but towards the end of the novel I felt almost sick with misery. Don't be misled - this is a stark story about a woman who is in a coma, the story of how she sustained her injuries and the fractured relationships she has with her soul-damaged visitors. Every other character in the novel also have their own skeletons in their closets and several gritty side-plots focus on yet more of life's struggles. I am not sure I could even describe this as black comedy. It seems rather more to swing between optimism and silliness to total despair. French's comedy brain is sometimes glaringly obvious but to try and wring any comedy out of overwrought characters is difficult when faced with the gloomy hospital sick-bed setting.

        Towards the middle of the novel I felt that the writing style had become slightly more simplified and the conclusion of the novel reads like a teen fiction novel that tries to expound emotion without alienating the reader by using complex literary techniques. The ultimate revelations about why Silvia has ended up where she is were not surprising to me. I felt the key relationship in the novel which explained Silvia's situation was not fully explored and therefore I still felt like I did not really know Silvia at the end of the story, as though chunks of her history were missing. The conclusion of the novel also feels like the author has rushed to piece things together so there are occurrences which are unexpected and which feel forced in order to create an ending. One positive thing about the end of the novel is that you do feel that you know MOST of the central characters quite well because of the way French has composed their character's dialogue. It's a few core characters that matter at the end rather than Silvia.

        I think that this novel has it's good points and it's bad points but that ultimately it's not something I really enjoyed. I was actually very surprised at how dark and sad the story is considering French's background and reputation for 'silly' comedy. I think that this would be a good book for younger people to read, especially school age teenagers. The reading guide at the back of the book also seems aimed at literature students or at people who perhaps don't read regularly. Despite this not being my cup of tea I would definitely pick up French's next novel as I think she has a talent at realising characters and bringing them to life and I would hope a less intense and miserable core storyline would feature next time!

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          06.09.2013 15:45
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          Unfortunately just an average read

          I read Dawn French's book 'A tiny bit Marvellous' last year and thought it was great so eagerly awaited her next book. It came in the form of this, 'Oh Dear Sylvia' and I must confess that with other commitments, I've only just got round to reading it now even though it's been out for a few months. Because I enjoyed her previous offering so much, it was one of those purchases that I was going to make regardless of the plot but when I read the about the plot, I was intrigued to find out more. Dawn French is primarily known for being a comedian and one half of the comedy duo French and Saunders but has more recently become an author after writing her very successful autobiography 'Dear Fatty'.

          The Plot
          The book follows a lady called Sylvia that, after a fall from a balcony, has ended up in a hospital ITU in a coma. She is visited several times everyday by various important people from her life (and some deemed not so important people by others). The plot follows their story and relationship with Sylvia and several major confessions arise from their lives and previous times spent with her. The plot isn't very complicated to follow although there are a few twists and turns along the way as we get to know each of her visitors in detail. As well as a few jokes, laughs and one liners to keep the reader entertained, the plot has a more serious side.

          Layout
          Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character. For example, the first is told from Ed's point of view - Ed is her ex husband and the first chapter covers the main reasons for his visit and how he knows Sylvia, along with brief points of why their relationship came to an end. At the top of each chapter, a time and day of that person's visit is noted so the reader can build up a picture of their visits. It is a very easy to follow book and didn't take much concentration.


          My opinion
          Although it was quite a good read, I don't feel it lived up to the writing seen in her previous offering. It was enjoyable and must have done something right because I didn't want to put it down at some parts, although I think that was partly due to the layout of the book. I don't like books where chapters are huge and take hours to get through. I prefer short, sharp chapters were I can get through one in 10 minutes. With a hectic life, the fact that I don't like stopping mid chapter and always like to end my reading at a definite point, these shorter chapters made it incredibly easy for me to read and was a lot more suited to my reading ways. It's also only 352 pages long, so it's not a long book.

          I didn't feel as drawn into the storyline as I was in her first book. I felt detached from the storyline in some way - I suppose it was because I couldn't really relate to any of the characters in it and that just meant I was reading line by line but not feeling much more. The storyline idea seemed very promising and a great concept, I just didn't feel it was properly embraced from every angle. I also felt that so many more paths could have been explored - the ending was quite abrupt and could have carried on for a good few chapters without seeming long winded and could have gone into a lot more detail on some of the twists that arose. I felt that although some major confessions were made in the book by some of the characters, some of these were skirted over completely.

          Some of the one liners were funny - they appear throughout and sometimes in the most unlikely of places, but they did make me laugh out loud a couple of times, particularly in one instance when Sylvia's sister Jo visited along with a policeman. Although these were funny, I found some parts to be extremely far fetched and I felt that distracted a little from the plot idea. The book was very contrasting - whilst there were some far fetched parts, there were other sections that I thought were very well covered, in particular when Sylvia's son writes a letter to her about his time serving as a Marine. The book quickly went from a humorous part to a very serious one. Again, the short and sharp chapters helped with these sudden changes and the flow of the book did work quite well.

          Conclusion
          I think overall I would recommend this book, although not to those who like submerging themselves into a story for days and weeks on end. This is an incredibly easy book to just read without any brainpower and one that didn't take me long to get through - and I'm not a fast reader. If you enjoyed her first book, you would probably think that this one was ok but I wouldn't expect it to match the superb writing seen in that. I've rated it 3 stars because I was expecting slightly more and think although the idea of the story was fantastic, the writing could have been more gritty and some of the ideas could have been explored a lot more.

          Available in hardback, paperback and e-versions. I paid £5.75 for the paperback in WHSmiths.
          Pages: 352
          ISBN-10: 0718156064
          ISBN-13: 978-0718156060
          Published: 25 October 2012

          Thanks for reading :o)

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            08.08.2013 22:43

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            Absolutely golden work by Dawn French, as always!

            So, I got this book from a WH Smiths at a service station whilst going on holiday. I had read A Tiny Bit Marvellous and loved it. And similarly to that Dawn takes a set of characters, and writes the story from their point of view, whilst the main story progresses steadily in the background.

            It was a relatively slow starting book, with the characters being introduced and their relationships to the main character explained, but once this had been completed, revelations began taking place which make your mind wonder to the deepest, darkest corners of your mind to try to get your own guess on what has happened.

            It is no spoiler to state that the main character of the book Silvia, is in a coma. It states it on the blurb, don;t hate me for telling you! So this adds another element to the way that Dawn has written the book, telling Silvia's story through the memories of those around her.

            It's a great read with lots of twists and turns along the way, and yes, as is expected of Dawn French, a lot of funny bits too. I struggled to put it down, and I urge you to give it a go, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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            07.08.2013 17:07
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            Slightly disappointing but still worth reading.

            This book is full of interesting and diverse characters with the main character, Sylvia, in a coma following an accident. Although humorous in parts, it's actually quite a dark and disturbing tale.

            Sylvia's story unfolds through the friends and family who come to visit her in hospital, in Coma Suite Number 5. These include her ex-husband, Ed, her estranged daughter, Cassie, and Tia, Sylvia's cleaner with her own unique sense of justice and who provides some light relief to the darker side of Sylvia's story. There is also the slightly unhinged sister, Jo, and Irish friend and GP, Cat.

            On the positive side, it's witty, intriguing and surprising. Dawn French writes well and the book draws you in so that you want to know the final outcome. On the negative, you don't get to hear Sylvia's viewpoint and the strong Jamaican accent of Winnie, who is Silvia's nurse, is difficult to follow.

            Slightly disappointing but still worth reading.

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              06.04.2013 20:58
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              Recommended, Dawn French at her literary best, but don't expect it to be laughs all the way through.

              Oh Dear Silvia is published by Penguin Books in hardback in October 2012.

              Having previously enjoyed Dawn French's literary offerings I bought this 352 page book as soon as I saw it with out reading other reviews. I was NOT disappointed and found myself getting very quickly drawn into the story.

              The subject matter is unusual, with Silvia Chute, a coma patent at the epicentre of events. The story is written with sensitivity, incorporating humour with moving sequences and descriptions that are almost tangible.

              I don't want to add any spoilers so I won't go into detail about the story, except to say it gives a moving insight into the personal relationships of Silvia, who is seriously ill in hospital and unable to communicate. We learn about her life, loves, strengths and flaws though the perspectives of those closest to her. These cover moving affection, anger, resentment and regret. Nothing is sugar coated, but the story isn't too dark either.

              The characters develop through the book, and French manages to present things in such a way that your feeling towards the characters also evolve as understanding of the various relationships develops.

              He nurse Winnie is a strong character that binds the threads of the other characters together.

              This is probably going to be preferred by female readers. Its a difficult subject, but an easy read. I found it very difficult to put down once I'd got into it.

              I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fiction about relationships, but be aware it does get upsetting in places as her family are faced with the possibility that Silvia may not recover.

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