Jane Is Trying, by Isy Suttie | Book review by Steve Bennett
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Jane Is Trying, by Isy Suttie

Book review by Steve Bennett

Vladimir Nabokov famously said: ‘The writer's job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.’ Well, Isy Suttie has pretty much emptied an entire quarry on poor Jane, the suddenly adrift late-thirtysomething at the heart of her debut novel.

Even before the book starts she’s had to flee her successful job in London and long-term relationship with Jonathan, her business partner and the man she was trying to start a family with, after discovering he was having an affair. 

Out of options, she washes up back at her childhood home of Foley in Derbyshire, a fictional town in the same neck of the woods Suttie is from, kicking around with a non-job in a bookshop and back living with her parents.

There she finds she can’t escape the gravity of the past and immediately reverts to her childhood status. Here, Jane can no longer be the commander of her own destiny, with interference from every quarter: meddling friends, suffocating family, terrible therapists and more. Everyone assumes they know best but all their interventions buffet her away from the happiness she’d get from being in control.

Beyond the battering her confidence took from the split, it’s clear Jane has other issues: she’s OCD and suffers anxious, intrusive thoughts. And there’s an incident from her past in Foley that still haunts her.

Many authors might be tempted to define their character purely by these concerns, but Suttie’s made them just part of Jane’s complex character, not all of it. Her mental health issues make her more resilient, not more fragile and she’s charming and funny as well as troubled, easy to root for as each event takes her further and further off course. 

From all this, you might conclude that Jane Is Trying is not ostensibly a funny book. But there’s a dry, tragi-comic farce to some of the situations Jane lands herself in and a dry wit in the way many of the larger-than-life characters that populate this small town are depicted, some decidedly quirkier than others. 

Suttie has a keen eye for supplementary detail, which makes her story seem all the more real, and an ear for a nice turn of phrase, which makes it delightful to read. This is clearly a provincial, parochial world she knows well, and can tease it affectionately even as her heroine progresses ever further on the road paved with good intentions.

Jane Is Trying by Isy Suttie is also available from Amazon, priced £12.44.

Published: 12 Aug 2021

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