A by-product of the 21st century is that almost on a daily basis, our consciousness is flooded with fairy tales and legends. Books that we read often tow the fairy tale line, and most definitely the box sets and movies we watch are far more guilty. It is no wonder that Donna Crick-Oakley is having a bit of a princess complex…
Having chosen the Kindle edition (also available in paperback), the design of the front cover was just as important as a physical book. So as a bookish sort I was immediately drawn in by the clouds of books in the sky and the girl in pink dress balancing precariously atop of them. I knew this was going to be a book about books in some way. Published in July 2016 by Bluemoose books in Kindle format, this short e-book of 250 pages has been short-listed for the Guardian’s Not-the-Booker Prize 2016.
In short prose and clipped sentences, Dan Micklethwaite manages to challenge the notion of sanity and insanity, and therefore, the social construction of ‘normal’. When the avid reader first meets our early 20 something protagonist Donna, she is immediately likeable. Donna hoards books, reads indiscriminately and repetitively, and most of all she puts her books first as well as all over her flat. And then the cracks appear. Donna has been hit with the lack of purpose served up nicely by her absent father in the form of a lump sum of money that means she does not have to work. Instead, Donna has something far worse to do. She has to find meaning. When Donna finally realises she is in need not only of books but some new clothes to replace her well-worn leggings, it should not come as a surprise that Donna has set her sights on a ‘princess dress’. “Was happiness equivalent to princess-hood?” Nothing practical going on here. When Donna ventures to leave her flat in her normal clothes, she feels embarrassed and watched, but ‘safer’ in her errant Knight costume – the very opposite of our socially constructed norm.
Donna Creosote thinks of everything in terms of books. They are her fortress. She tries to remember any good memories about her parents, but comes out empty-handed.
“But babies do not hope. Not right at the start. They don’t need to. They are hope, in and of themselves. They are the front cover, clean and smooth, marked only with a name. Everything else – the character flaws, the scrappy plots, the inevitable falling back on cliché – is way out beyond them. At the start, before that front cover is turned, any book can be a masterpiece. By the end, most are little but a well-intentioned mess.”
What Micklethwaite has constructed is an accost to, and remedy from, the mundance of every-day life. Unaware that she is even attempting to find purpose, Donna has fabricated a sort of courage built from fiction. And then, she tries to fabricate a princess life with Sammy. Until she realises something very significant about being a princess …
This short read is humorous yet sad, fantastical yet harshly realistic. Well-written, realistic dialogue brings us closer to the moments that Donna experiences. And Donna Crick-Oakley is living on the edge of reality, often on the balcony of her flat, swaying her hips to the music of parties she never gets invited to. Life sucks.
This books is reviewed by Sam Jordison here. The votes for the winner of the Not-the-Booker-prize 2016 take place on 17th October.