Book Review: Girl In Between by Anna Daniels

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Can a book set in the daggy central Queensland town of Rockhampton rise above its dull and dusty setting to be literary entertainment? Can the tried and tested plot device of a girl having a mid-youth crisis – no job, no man, no ring, no kids – at 32, be compelling? Let’s see, shall we? 

Author Anna Daniels at her book launch, Girl In Between, Riverbend Books.

I met Anna last year at the Brisbane Writers Festival, when Girl In Between was a novella that had been shortlisted for The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. We were both sitting at the back of the room at the Festival launch and, as central Queenslanders tend to do when they sense one of their own, we struck up a conversation. She had been offered a publishing deal by Allen & Unwin’s Louise Thurtell and was in the process of taking it from 38,000 words to 80,000.

I was thrilled when she got in touch to invite me to the book’s launch at Riverbend Books last week. It was great to see a project come to fruition like that. I grabbed a copy and devoured it and here are a few thoughts that I’ve jotted down, in case you’re interested.

Review: Girl in Between

I love reading books that are set locally. I’m in love with any book that is set in my home city of Brisbane (follow my Instagram channel @BookishBrisbane for more Brisbane books!). And so I was pretty excited to read Girl In Between for the local Rockhampton scenery.

I lived in Rocky for five or so years in my early 20s while studying. At the time I found it dull, daggy and creatively destructive in that way that young girls with ego-centric attitudes do. However, in the 20 or so intervening years since then, I’ve developed a level of affection for this town that lacks pretension – the people are about as real as it gets. They’re pragmatic, very blunt, and totally down to earth, which sounds cliched, but I guess it takes some life experience to really appreciate Rocky’s finer points.

And this appreciation for the beef capital of Australia is evident in Anna’s version of Rocky in this, her debut novel, Girl In Between.

Anna writes fondly of small town Rocky, the town she grew up in, and paints a whimsical picture of bumping into cheery neighbours and chirpy odd-ball characters routinely. But it has to be said that this pleasant Rocky-cum-quaint English village bears very little resemblance to the stifling hot reality of Rocky that I remember, with its big-city population of more than 100,000, its skin-flaying sunbeams, and its sticky temperatures in the high 30s every day.

How much does that matter – that Anna’s Rocky and my Rocky differ dramatically?

Not at all, in my view. When an artist paints a desert scene in water colours, it romanticises a very harsh environment but does that make it any less worthwhile? Nope, of course not. It’s interpretation. Isn’t that what artists do, interpret and re-present life back to us?  A watercolour of a desert scene in soft muted pastels is still art.

In Girl In Between, Anna has created a charming cavalcade of bubbly characters to drive a highly entertaining plot forward in a steady, almost rollicking fashion. Anna’s stand-up comedy background has helped pepper the story with funny, blunt no-bullshit observations that are dry and witty in a voice that smacks of regional Queensland.

The main character, Lucy, is suffering from a mid-youth crisis. At 32 she has no career (she chucked in her Melbourne TV producing job), no money, no man (she’s pining after a former boyfriend), no kids, and no idea where she’s going in life, apart from a plan to finish writing her novel. She moves back in with her parents to finish the book and see if she can sort her life out.

What follows, while not an earth-shattering twisty plot, is well-written and highly entertaining. And it’s Anna’s voice that really makes this so fresh and funny. It’s a no-bullshit, pretentious-free zone and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a fun read that doesn’t require too much heavy thinking (isn’t that all of us?!). Loved it.

I give this a hearty four out of five stars.

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