Useful by Debra Oswald

Here’s the thing with chick-lit and lad-lit: it’s not about the ending, it’s about how the author gets you there. Because really, you pretty much know what’s going to happen within the first few chapters (there are rare exceptions to this rule – David Nicholl’s One Day comes to mind). What you want from your story is humour and an emotional conundrum or two.

Debra Oswald (of Offspring-screenwriting fame) takes you on particularly interesting journey involving organ donation, suicide attempts, a one-eyed dog, pub bands and asbestos removal in her novel, Useful.

Specifically, it tells the story of Sullivan Moss who is in equal parts a charming underachiever, unreliable, thoughtless and a spectacularly crap friend. He decides to do one ‘useful’ thing – donate a kidney to a stranger – and in the process gets a job, sobers up and makes new friends, including radio producer Natalie and her son Louis. I don’t need to tell you much more about the plot short of saying that Oswald adds a few lively twists and turns that ensures the focus is not entirely on Sullivan.

Offspring fans may detect a bit of Nina’s indecision, scattiness and neuroses in some of the Useful characters and why not, Oswald clearly writes those types of personalities very well. While it was easy to laugh at some of the characters (who are ever-so-subtlety stereotyped), there was a darker side to their stories – Sullivan was obviously deeply depressed, his friends Tim and Juliet were bitter and unhappy in their marriage, and Natalie was grieving (for more than just her dead father).

Pleasingly, Oswald avoids tying up all the loose ends at the conclusion of the book. I’m not a huge fan of very neat endings – I far prefer a little wiggle-room for characters and a lingering “Maybe…”. Useful let me have that – a happy ending but not exactly the one I initially expected.

3.5/5 Useful is released on January 28, 2015 – it’s the perfect book to conclude your summer beach reading.

I received my copy of Useful from the publisher, Penguin Books Australia via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Sullivan’s neighbour bakes. Constantly. She’s a biscuit-pusher, particularly Serbian walnut cookies (you’ll need Google translate for that recipe…).


4 responses

    • Thanks for visiting! I agree, you have to be selective about chick-lit – some of it follows a formula and really is fluff but other books, like this one, have a great story, are well written and are funny – the JACKPOT! If you haven’t read any Nora Ephron yet, I suggest you track some of her books down.

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