The Girl on the Page by John Purcell, Review: A literary page-turner

From book industry insider John Purcell, comes The Girl On The Page – a literary page-turner, a ferocious and fast-paced novel that cuts to the core of what it means to balance ambition and integrity, and the redemptive power of great literature.

John Purcell The Girl on the Page

The Girl on the Page Synopsis:

Two women, two great betrayals, one path to redemption.

Amy Winston is a hard-drinking, bed-hopping, hot-shot young book editor on a downward spiral. Having made her name and fortune by turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child, Amy is given the unenviable task of steering literary great Helen Owen back to publication.

When Amy knocks on the door of their beautiful townhouse in north-west London, Helen and her husband, the novelist Malcolm Taylor, are conducting a silent war of attrition. The townhouse was paid for with the enormous seven-figure advance Helen was given for the novel she wrote to end fifty years of making ends meets on critical acclaim alone. The novel Malcolm thinks unworthy of her. The novel Helen has yet to deliver. The novel Amy has come to collect.

Amy has never faced a challenge like this one. Helen and Malcolm are brilliant, complicated writers who unsettle Amy into asking questions of herself – questions about what she values, her principles, whether she has integrity, whether she is authentic. Before she knows it, answering these questions becomes a matter of life or death.

(HarperCollins Australia, 2018)

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Self-defeating behaviour is common, and I think understandable to a degree. However, I have very low tolerance for self-destructive behaviour (and its perpetrators), both in life and in my fiction.

In that context, it is no mean feat that despite John Purcell’s leading lady Amy being one of the most wantonly self-destructive characters I have come across, I was ultimately won over by the literary intelligence that oozes from this novel.

Amy’s behaviour is ‘wanton’ in every sense of the word – promiscuous, repeatedly whorish (prose is explicit), often spiteful and at times outright cruel. In addition, very few of the people in the firing line (aka punching bags) are deserving of such treatment. She’s almost an impossible person to like…. except, you can’t help but admire her chutzpah.

And, as the story goes on, we learn a beating heart lies hidden within that trainwreck. Plus she’s not the only character in this novel acting either duplicitous or in a self-deluded manner.

Literary intelligence

But back to ‘the intelligence’ that won me over, and why the more literary inclined should persevere beyond the relatively stark opening chapters.

He felt as the chair and books did, completely out of place in this new house. He too was rubbed around the edges and stained. This house was too beautiful, too clean, too expansive. And white. So white. He was a stain here. A living stain.

The Girl on the Page is really about the battle between, and is itself a melding of, commercial (genre) and literary fiction. The full fiction spectrum is represented; everything from the crass, cheap and shocking, to the philosophical and esoteric, the moving and profound.

Malcolm: “To me, literature is the fastest and surest route to understanding something of this life.”

While in the throes of reading, the pace and transitions between the extremes can feel a little disorienting. It certainly kept this reader on her toes. Despite bursting at the seams with cameos, literary references and debate, it also finds time for dark humour and quips at the expense of fictional and publishing industry tropes.

But ultimately, John Purcell’s The Girl on the Page is a love letter to all fictional authors, and the product of their labours, which offer readers opportunities for entertainment and self-inquiry/reflection. This novel delivers both in spades, and as such, it only seems fitting to end with this advice Amy gives Helen:

I think that’s where your new novel sits, on the literary edge of commercial fiction. It has bestseller written all over it, but it will also make people think. And because of that it will sell extremely well. I’m sure of it. Most people won’t know whether it’s literature or not.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Get your copy of The Girl On The Page from:

Booktopia(Aus) | iBooks | AmazonKobobooks

Genre: Drama, Literature

Source: HarperCollins Australia

This review counts towards my participation in the 2018 Aussie Author Challenge and the 2018 New Release Challenge.

About the Author, John Purcell

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop – imaginatively called ‘John’s Bookshop’ – in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written (under pseudonym Natasha Walker) a series of successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at literary’ festivals and on TV and been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered goldfish and his overlarge book collection.

Check out John’s website and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Other reviews of The Girl On The Page

Goodreads, Debbish, Seeing the Lighter Side, Written by Sime

* Receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.