Review: Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

Title: Oh Dear Silvia

Author: Dawn French

Published: Michael Joseph Penguin October 2012

Synopsis: Who is in Coma Suite Number 5? A matchless lover? A supreme egotist? A selfless martyr? A bad mother? A cherished sister? A selfish wife? All of these. For this is Silvia Shute who has always done exactly what she wants. Until now, when her life suddenly, shockingly stops. Her past holds a dark and terrible secret, and now that she is unconscious in a hospital bed, her constant stream of visitors are set to uncover the mystery of her broken life. And she must lie there, victim of the beloveds, the borings, the babblings and the plain bonkers. Like it or not, the truth is about to pay Silvia a visit. Again, and again and again . . Read an Extract

Status: Read from November 05 to 06, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Penguin Australia}

My Thoughts:

Oh Dear Sylvia is the second novel by Dawn French, her first A Tiny Bit Marvellous, published in 2011, became a bestseller in the UK.

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.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Leeswammes
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 08:23:52

    Sounds a bit disappointing. I liked but didn’t love A Tiny Bit Marvellous. I’ll tread with caution. This sounds interesting but I’m not sure I’ll like it.

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  2. Ilsa Evans
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 08:34:43

    LOVE Dawn French on screen (Let Them Eat Cake – her series about Marie Antoinette – is under-rated genius) but, for me, her humour doesn’t translate as well to the page. So I’ll give this one a miss – but I might just go watch The Vicar of Dibley instead!

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  3. Mystica
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 16:45:30

    I am reading Dear Fatty right now. It is more a memoir – humour there but not The Vicar of Dibley. Nice reading.

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  4. Kath Shelton
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 06:08:23

    I have read A Tiny Bit Of Marvelous and I really enjoyed it. Just finished reading Oh Dear Sylvia. Its the only book Ive ever read that actually made me sob my heart out at the end. I particularly loved the part when Cassie gets into bed beside her dying mother, OMG that did it for me. Dawn really captured Sylvia’s final hour very well, turning a clinical setting into a calm serene room with amazing grace being hummed by her devoted nurse, brilliant. Unfortunately the rest of the book didnt quite hit the spot for me. I very nearly gave up on it, but Im glad i didnt. It was and ok read, preferred a Tiny Bit Of Marvelous. Well done to Dawn French though, hope she keeps on writing I do like her style.

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  5. Elimy
    Apr 13, 2013 @ 18:30:28

    I actually thought that the way she revealed the crucial information was rather clumsy, and found the portrayal of Tia hilarious but a little racially insensitive. Also, I got the impression she changed her mind about whether Cat was good or bad late in writing the book.

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