By reading Style magazine, I was training myself not to want things. It was going quite well. I had already found that I did not want a pair of Yves Saint Laurent mules, a chandelier made from plastic antlers, or a diamond-encrusted necklace in the shape of a pineapple. I was still working on not wanting a fitted farmhouse kitchen in warm wood.
Sylvia lives in a flat on a council estate with her not-quite-husband Obe and their two young children. She dreams of buying a house on a leafy street like the one she grew up in. If she closes her eyes, she can see it all so clearly: the stripped floorboards, the wisteria growing around the door….
It’s not ideal that she’s about to be made redundant, or that Obe, a playworker, is never going to earn more than the minimum wage. As sleep deprivation sets in, and the RnB downstairs gets ever louder, Sylvia’s life starts to unravel.
But when the estate is earmarked for redevelopment, the threat to her community gives Sylvia a renewed sense of purpose, With a bit of help from her activist sister, and her film-maker friend Frankie, she’s ready to take stand for what she believes in.
I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour today for On The Up by Alice O’Keeffe, my thanks to Jenny Platt for the invitation to take part.
I devoured this book in just over 24 hours – this is a rare beast at the best of times – but recently, when I’ve been moving house for what feels like three years – time is very precious and hard to come by. I merrily lost sleep for this book.
I adored the main character of Sylvia. I suspect she may be a bit Marmite for some, but for me, in the current (wonderful) climate of imperfect female characters, I identified with her. For me, the story is one of self discovery and redefining identity post-children. Sylvia has transitioned, very quickly and unexpectedly, from having a career and a Plan, to being a mother, whereby the Plan no longer quite fits, but she hankers after it all the same. Beyond the materialism, it’s finding out what really matters. That’s not to say that it’s soppy and floaty with dreams of love and contentment for evermore. On The Up is seeped in realism. And the narrative delivers this in spades. The observations of modern life are brilliantly witty, and I was a particular fan of Sylvia’s logbook entries for the Hackney Council Anti-Social Behaviour Unit. Intended to be evidence of a complaint, they are rather more revealing of Sylvia and her state of mind!
We live in a world where feminism and equality gives with one hand and takes with the other. Life, especially for working mothers, is a pressure cooker of stress and time management, and this comes over incredibly well. I particularly enjoyed the dinner party scene with Sylvia, Frankie and Phoebe which really drove this home. There was a real sense of solidarity and support.
The cast of characters are great; the relationship between Sylvia and Obe was delivered particularly well. Their struggles as a couple and as parents were very recognisable, but my favourite scenes were with with fellow residents of Priory Court in the latter stages of the book (I actually wanted more of these scenes), or with her best friend Frankie.
The real beauty of this book is the clever narrative, it’s real but yet incredibly uplifting. I finished the book feeling empowered; that as a mother I’m not assigned to the scrapheap after recent events that have taken place in my life (that’s a whole other story!) but that I have purpose – I just need to rediscover me and what I truly want from life. I’ve been inspired to enjoy the now and stop worrying…..thanks to Sylvia, I’ve stepped away from the Hole and can raise my head a little higher.
It truly is a novel of the here and now. It very smartly demonstrates the anxieties of modern life; the way in which the past, the present and the future have converged into a giant melting pot of worry. But that it does all of this with so much heart and in such a way that it makes you feel good – that is the true charm of On The Up.
I cannot highly recommend this enough to women everywhere! A true joy to read.
About the Author
Alice O’Keeffe is a freelance writer and journalist. She was deputy editor of the Guardian’s Saturday Review section, and writes book reviews, interviews and features for the Guardian, Observer and New Statesman. She has been a speechwriter at the Department for Education and literary programmer at the Brighton Festival. Alice lives in Brighton with her husband and two children.
*I received a copy of On The Up from the publisher. The decision to read was my own, and this review forms my honest opinion.