Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Playing With the Grown Ups, Sophie Dahl

Posted by lea at 4:10 PM
I must admit that my interest in this book was more to the do with the author than the story itself. Who that loved children's author Roald Dahl would not be interested to see if his granddaughter inherited his writing talent? The verdict: apart from a few dodgy bits*, she certainly can.

Playing With the Grown Ups is told through the eyes of fourteen year old Kitty, who has a very unconventional childhood with her artist mother Marina. Marina lives like the heroine of a tragic romance story - she wears silky negligees, has multiple besotted admirers and throws herself into art, love, religion and whatever else catches her fancy. Kitty, the illegitimate daughter of one of her former married lovers, grows up quickly, helping to take care of her two younger siblings (the product of another relationship) as Marina chases the next high between London and New York - an endless stream of parties, famous people and lovers.

While Kitty grows up adoring and admiring her mother, she begins to see that things are not right - Marina does drugs with Kitty's friends and has an inappropriate relationship with one of her friends. She even bribes Kitty to take her siblings to school with a bag of cocaine. You'd think that this would cause a rift in the relationship or at least cause Kitty to see her mother for the tragedy she was, however this is glossed over and the novel is brought to a quick close.

Sophie Dahl was the daughter of '70s wild child' Tessa Dahl, who apparently battled drugs and depression in her time, and it's clear that Kitty's story is, at least in part, her own. It's been speculated that this is why she focuses on the magical aspect of growing up in this very bohemian lifestyle but stops short of placing judgment of Marina/Tessa. Instead the story is told in flashback, after Kitty is all grown up, when she is beyond judging Marina and has moved past this chapter in her life. Unfortunately for the readers, we miss a major part of her growth.

Kitty is a sympathetic character though, and the book is quite enchanting. It's a lovely read and very enjoyable - almost other-worldly like it belongs in a different time. The writing is quite lyrical, although at times it tries a little too hard to be so. On the whole I was pleasantly surprised and raise my glass to Sophie Dahl, who can obviously stand on her own two literary (and literal!) feet.

* two terrible similes within the first six pages and waxes lyrical too often on Marina's overwhelming beauty

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