Criticising Dawn French feels like kicking a puppy. She’s so winning that the nation was even tempted to let The Vicar of Dibley slide.
Criticising Dawn French feels like kicking a puppy. She’s so winning that the nation was even tempted to let The Vicar of Dibley slide. The same is true of her debut novel, A Tiny Bit Marvellous (Michael Joseph, £18.99), which has its heart in the right place, in spite of reading as though it’s jumping up and slobbering over your trousers.
We share the alternating reflections of three members of the very middle-class Battle family:
49-year-old mother Mo, 17-year-old Dora, and 16-year-old aesthete Peter (who has renamed himself Oscar, after Wilde, and says things like ‘Pater’ and ‘le chapeau juste’), in the run-up to Mo’s and Dora’s watershed birthdays.
Dora struggles with her interfering mother, and feels like ‘a big fat loser’ when dumped by Sam Tyler, even if he is ‘the world’s smallest freakboy’. Meanwhile, Mo, a child-psychologist, toils through ‘the foothills of the menopause’. Both seek ego-boosts by pursuing relationships with men who turn out to be not quite what they seem — a hint of danger which counterbalances some relentlessly perky prose.
It’s all a bit unconvincing: Richard Curtis minus verve. Sprinkling Dora’s chapters with the phrase ‘so, like’ is so, like hardly Salinger, and a couple of references to Melanie Klein do not Mo a child-psychologist make. But French has such a tender and tolerant attitude towards the problems of growing up and growing old that this book just about deserves a pat and a biscuit.