- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harper (May 28, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062271814
- ISBN-13: 978-0062271815
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #886,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Oh Dear Silvia: A Novel Hardcover – May 28, 2013
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“[A] laugh-out-loud novel that is interestingly narrated in alternating chapters by characters with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. This is sure to appeal to fans of contemporary British humor like Absolutely Fabulous or Bridget Jones’s Diarywith a dash of mystery mixed in.” (Library Journal)
“Funny…[and] impressively well-written.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Celebrated English actress and comedian French makes her American literarydebut with a deeply compelling story.” (RT Book Reviews (top pick), 4 Stars)
“Fresh, extremely funny.” (Sunday Times (London))
Really enjoyable and highly recommended. Dawn French is a wonderful writer - witty, wise and poignant (Daily Mail (London))
A hilarious and compelling read (Good Housekeeping, UK)
From the Back Cover
The internationally bestselling author and acclaimed comedic actress Dawn French makes her American literary debut with this riveting novel of secrets, forgiveness, guilt, and love.
Silvia Shute has always done exactly what she wants. But after a fall from a balcony, her life has suddenly, shockingly stopped.
Now she's unconscious in a hospital bed, at the mercy of the mad friends and crazy relatives who have come to visit. Her beleaguered ex-husband, her newly independent daughter, her West Indian nurse, her bohemian sister, her best friend, her enthusiastic housekeeper, and others all share a piece of their collective mind with the complex woman—the bad mother, the cherished sister, the selfish wife, the matchless lover, the egotist, the martyr—they think they know.
And Silvia can't talk back.
As she lies there, captive to the beloveds, the babblers, and the stark-raving bonkers who alternate at her bedside, the dark and terrible secret she has been hiding for years begins to emerge.
Like it or not, the truth has come to pay Silvia a visit. Again, and again, and again . . .
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Top Customer Reviews
The novel begins by introducing Ed who is seated by his ex-wife's hospital bed where Silvia rests, unresponsive and on life support after a severe head injury, with subsequent chapters shifting between the perspectives of Ed, Silvia's nurse (Winnie), housekeeper (Tia), partner (Cat), sister (Jo) and daughter (Cassandra). As each character spends time with Silvia, reminiscing about their respective relationships with her, they develop a portrait of a complicated woman for the reader. Just as you are sure you know and violently dislike Silvia, one of her visitors makes a stunning revelation that proves the old adage that you can never really know another person.
I thought the way in which the author structured this novel was very clever. The plot is carefully constructed to reveal critical information with perfect timing, betraying secrets and truths that reflect not only on Silvia but also her visitors.
The darker, serious elements of the story are tempered by the lighter, often farcical, moments, such as Jo's attempts at pet therapy and Tia's prattle about celebrity gossip, yet an undercurrent of grief is always present.
I have to admit while I found Tia's muddled, and often accidentally profane, speech hilarious, I found Winnie's Jamaican patios very difficult to read. British, and American readers, might be more attuned to the accent and therefore more comfortable with the odd rhythm but it's not familiar to me, so I struggled with her chapters.
While there are similarities in style between A Tiny Bit Marvellous and Oh Dear Sylvia, notably the multiple perspectives and French's irreverent style of humour, somewhat disappointingly, there is barely a hint of Dawn's distinct voice.
Oh Dear Silvia is a come-tragedy which is hilarious, dark and moving in turn. Though it is not entirely what I expected from Dawn French the novel has its' own unique charm which should appeal to a broad audience.
Sadly, this was not the case. I was more and more saddened as I read. A woman of sixty, friends and family gathered round her as she lay in a coma. How she came to be that way was unclear. What was sadly clear is that each of those who visited, seemed to be there more for themselves than for her. Guilt, anger and commitment to doing what was expected seemed to be the order of the day. The only one who lightened the tone of the book, and who seemed to care about poor Sylvia was the nurse, Winnie. Jo was fluttery and guilty and possibly somewhat relieved to be outliving her sister. Ed, the ex was just angry and unappealing, in my opinion. And the daughter? That might be what horrified me the most. A repulsive thing for the most part. The only thing that I could find compelling at all was that it felt like the truth. That at the end of the day, most people are just worried about themselves. We do die alone, no matter how we try to reject that as a possibility. The fact that Sylvia herself was a less than loving parent, sister and friend only made it worse.
I am not glad I read it, but as I said, it is perhaps my own fault for not investigating further before requesting this book from Vine. Never assume.
In this tale about a comatose Sylvia, somewhere along the way, much of the humour and potential poignancy was lost. I liked the idea of an individual's life being perceived and dissected from various viewpoints. But the chosen narrative format, for me, was too restricted and resulted in a string of monologue deliveries with no opportunity for dialogue exchanges. The fact that some were in patois should have added a different and engaging dimension but ended up being sometimes difficult to understand and rather stereotyped. The parade of visitors and their role in Sylvia's life was occasionally confusing. I lost interest in most of the individuals because they failed to engage as characters in their own right. Whilst there were moments of both humour and compassion, this story lacked cohesion. Parts could work well as short sketches, but the idea is overextended for novel format. Although I got through to the end, I was tempted more than once to abandon it.
This review is from the audible version narrated by Dawn French (and others). I also tried a sample download to see if reading the narrative improved the experience. It didn't.