by Miranda July
Picking up a book by a new-to-me author brings with it a mix of excitement and mystery. This is particularly true when all the chatter around it make the sort of claims this book has attracted. Judging by the quotes that emblazon the cover and leading pages, this is a novel that will leave an indelible mark on my soul.
Mind you, if I have learned anything from a lifetime as a book addict, it is to be wary of such self-promotion. In fac, CanonGate has included so many glowing testimonials that they ran out of room to print even a brief synopsis.
For anyone who needs to know, the book follows a year in the life of Cheryl, a single woman in her forties, whose stable and routine life is just about to be turned upside down. There is no great tragedy, just the arrival of her boss’ daughter, Clee.
It is difficult to describe what follows. As Cheryl tells her story in a frank and open way, we see the complex relationships that glue her life together become unstuck.
The characters we come across are all as mixed up as Cheryl herself, some more so. Whilst the book has its moments of both comedy and tragedy, for me, it just didn’t come together in the way I would have liked. For one thing, I never really felt much empathy for any of the characters. Even poor Cheryl, who tries so hard to do the right thing I found it hard to like.
One thing that does come across is the inherent instability of everyone in her life. Even her doctor and psychiatrist really need professional help.
I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the book. It is well written and at times very entertaining. For me though, it was over-hyped. I had been led to expect a book that would change my life. Instead I found a story I couldn’t fully relate to, populated with characters I didn’t understand.
The First Bad Man is an interesting read, just not one I would feel comfortable recommending to friends.