THE ART OF BECOMING AN ADULT IS TRICKY BUT THE ONE THING JONI CAN COUNT ON IS CHANGE
The coming-of-age story is a literary staple. There are so many versions and yet still novelists keep coming up with fresh ways to write about that period in life when you’re just starting out and trying to decide who you are and where you’re going.
Sally Seltmann’s coming-ofage novel reads almost like a memoir at times. It’s set in the mid-’90s when its main character Joni Johnson is fresh out of art school and living in Balmain, Sydney. She has ideas of how the major milestones of her life might turn out, but so far reality isn’t matching them.
The loss of her virginity, for instance, has recently been unspectacular and it seems that love is eluding her.
Much of the action is set in the restaurant where Joni waitresses at night. If a place like Harland exists in real life, then I’d love to go. It’s a rambling old villa filled with vintage furniture, mismatched china, a French menu and a bohemian proprietress.
This story really is a slice of life. It’s about the dynamics of Joni’s friendships with the people who work at Harland and her relationship with her best friend, a capricious starlet called Annabelle.
What it does really well is capture the way it feels to be that age – how you can be so certain about some things and so confused about others, how you can love and judge far too quickly, and how friendships can change as people do.
What isn’t quite as convincing is the romance angle to the plot. It all seems rushed and glib in comparison. In fact, the later chapters have much more of a YA feel to them.
I would have preferred to eliminate the love interest all together and learnt more about the other characters – Dave the chef, Lucy the saucy French restaurant owner, minxy Annabelle and unreliable waitress Juliet – who are all well sketched but whose stories seem to go nowhere.
There’s a level of immaturity to Lovesome that shows it is a debut novel, but there is also some lovely writing
and a lot of charm.
Lovesome by Sally Seltmann (Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99).