Sunday, 22 July 2018

Book review: Out of Time, Miranda Sawyer (2016)

Sawyer is five years younger than me so I could understand some of what she talks about, although I personally never had the same difficulty with middle age as she says she did. I was never a music journalist, of course. My case is anyway a bit different because when I was 38 my life started to fall apart when I separated from my family then a year later I developed a mental illness, lost my job and had to come back to Australia with my tail between my legs, without even a home to go to. That was just before the planes hit the Twin Towers. I got my act together eventually, found a new job, bought another property which I moved into, and went back to university to study journalism. So I had to cobble together a life from the ashes of the previous one, which sort of killed any sense of coherence my middle age might otherwise have had.

I read about 20 percent of Sawyer’s book, by which time she had got up to her 40s, before giving up, bored with it. The premise is sound: people do think that 40 is the new 30 and expect to be able to have all the same things at the age of 50 as they did at the age of 20 (even though, by the time you reach 50, you probably don’t really want them much anymore). And the book starts well. The initial letters used instead of names for people close to the author are confusing however: you lose track of who is who because of the gaps that separate mentions. There are some confusing Britishisms (“blag”, “goggle”) that pulled me up a bit short at times. The chapter on her 20s was a whirlwind of band names that meant exactly zero to me, and I found it tedious in the end. But it was mercifully short.

There is a lack of structure in the book however that is fatal to its purpose of conveying useful information. Insights. The reason you pay the price that appears on the Kindle store sales page as you sit, comfortable and fed, in your living room in faraway Sydney. There are few worth paying attention to, unfortunately, but more than that the sense that Sawyer thinks she’s writing a 2000-word story for a magazine instead of a book is difficult to square with the demands of your literary taste. These tell you that the book has been inadequately thought through.

The prose has a skittish fluidity but it skates over the surface of things at a rapid pace, not unlike the patter of one of those old-school touts who used to stand on the pavement outside the dollar shops in the CBD calling out the names and prices of goods on sale inside as they tried to entice people to walk through the doors, or like the tenor delivery of the caller of a horse race you would listen to when you went to get your hair cut at the barber’s as a kid.

The book is heavily under-cooked. The author might have had a good idea at the start of the project but its implementation is weak. It is not really worth the time spent reading it.

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