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Playing With the Grown-ups: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The full-length debut by the granddaughter of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal centers on a dreamy, romantic English woman who hasn't quite escaped the thrall of her fabulous mother, Marina. When Kitty, now married, pregnant, and living cozily in New York City with her financier husband, receives the call that her mother has been hospitalized after a breakdown, Kitty flashes back to her magical youth, revolving around her Swedish grandparents' Never-Neverland of a country home, Hay House, shared by her mother and aunts. When Marina's guru insists Marina move to New York City to pursue her painting, Kitty eventually joins her on Park Avenue, and her mixed-up adolescence begins. Wearing her mother's clothes, flirting with her handsome boyfriends and swept into parties where her mother chops the cocaine, Kitty comes through a number of charming yet troubling moments, as well as foreshadowings of Marina's future breakdown. There's plenty of texture to Kitty's remembrances, but the result reads more like a fictional memoir than fully plotted novel. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

Dahl, the granddaughter of children’s book author Roald Dahl, offers up the tale of a woman unable to embrace adulthood and her daughter, who is forced to grow up too fast. Kitty is the product of her glamorous, beautiful mother Marina’s affair with a married man. Marina, a talented painter, is an irresponsible woman-child who takes her two younger children off to America at the behest of a swami, leaving Kitty to fend for herself at an English boarding school. Serious, thoughtful Kitty is out of place and unpopular at the boarding school, and she is relieved when her mother finally sends for her to join the family in America. As Kitty enters her teens, she finds herself emulating her mother’s supposedly “adult” behavior—taking drugs, going to clubs, and seeing inappropriate men—only gradually realizing that she possesses more maturity and wisdom than her mother ever will. Dahl’s writing is fluid and graceful, her novel a tribute to the often complex and sometimes maddening relationship between mothers and daughters. --Kristine Huntley

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385524617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385524612
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,564,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kristine Lofgren VINE VOICE on April 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'll admit that I first heard of Sophie Dahl during her "real woman" modeling days, but I first fell in love with her voice as an author in a Harper's Bazaar article that she did on living green for a day. Her first book, a fairy tale for adults called The Man With the Dancing Eyes, only whet my appetite for more and Playing With the Grown-Ups does not disappoint.

I read this book while sitting on my porch in the first sun of spring, smoking cigarettes and avoiding getting to work. Instead of killing a few hours, I ate the book up in one day, putting it down only when life called me away, and after it was done I felt as though I had been wandering in a pastel English garden for a few hours, a soft blanket wrapped around my shoulders and I was loathe to leave.

By now the biographical nature of the novel, and whether or not it is all true, has been hashed to bits and I won't recount the story here. It is clearly a story with a foot placed firmly in reality, but aren't most novels? The real attraction of the story is the delicious prose that pulls you gently along and takes you out of your own world for a little while, which is all that we ask for from our books. I'll admit that I entered into this story with a distinct bias against the author. Perhaps she was riding on her grandfathers coat-tails a bit too far. Just another model - slash - something or other. I was blown away.

Ms. Dahl's voice is sweet and eloquent, painting a beautifully vivid portrait of a story that could have very well been dark and depressing. Instead, because of the childish innocence of the novel's star and Ms. Dahl's talent with words, the story feels light and poetic, optimistic and brave.
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Format: Hardcover
Sophie Dahl has a real talent for story telling. This beautifully spun novel plunges head first into the exciting and utterly complicated life of Kitty, an adolescent girl; whose triumphs and tragedies lead her on the bumpy road to adulthood. This story is sprinkled with a cast of wonderful and quirky characters...from the ultimate guru, Swami-ji who at one point rules their lives to the Russian Romeo who longs after girls half his age, to the display of many eccentric men who enter and leave her mother Marina's life...this coming of age book is at once sparkling with wit and humor and immediately captivating in its innocence and warmth. Dahl's ability to create a setting is nostalgic and memorable every step of the way. Be it the English countryside and Hay House or the references she makes to New York; that imagery will be forever etched in my mind. She molds her words as though they were made of clay.

Marina's spontaneous and radical efforts to find happiness result in her uprooting her little family - Kitty, Sam, Violet and nanny Nora - from England to New York to the guru's Ashram and back to England. Kitty even has to suffer boarding school and the agonies of being an unpopular girl surrounded by snobs until the guru's vision eventually releases her back to the world. Kitty (aka Kit-Kat) has an unusual childhood...she is the child but also the adult in her world, covering for Marina and protecting her from Bestamama and the parade of drooling men who fall at her feet. Caught between wanting to break free into adulthood and hanging on to the responsible `good girl' that she is, she remains the glue that holds the family together.
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Format: Hardcover
The story begins with the ever-dreaded phone call in the middle of the night, summoning Kitty to London because something's happened to her mother. Heavily pregnant herself, Kitty gets on the first flight, and, we think, starts the story from the beginning to demonstrate how she and her family got to the point where her mother lies in the hospital.

As a child, Kitty lived a somewhat idyllic life in the English countryside with her mother, brother, sister, aunts, grandparents, and nanny. Dahl vividly describes her setting, and one can almost feel the warmth of the sun and the breeze.

But Kitty is not destined to remain there. Kitty's mother, Marina, is presented to the reader as someone who does not make the best choices in life. Kitty herself is the product of an affair Marina had as a teenager with a married man. As the story begins, Marina has just found religion, through Swami-ji, the leader of an unnamed cult.

Though benevolent in intention, the effect of the cult on Kitty's family is dramatic. Soon, Kitty is separated from her family and sent to a drab boarding school, while her mother and siblings go to New York. Her mother becomes a successful painter in New York, and after a single school year, decides that Kitty should join her. She does, and it is in New York that Kitty first begins to follow her mother's example in walking on the wild side.

When the family moves back to London (having been rejected by the cult), Kitty's inhibitions seem to stay in New York. Once in London, she falls in with varying crowds, doing drugs, going to wild parties, and the like. From the loose time references we are given in the book, it is the mid-'90s and Kitty is about 14.
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