My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Comedy must be one of the hardest forms of writing to get right. You would not think so, given the number of successful situation comedies on television or the number of comedians of either gender able to attract vast audiences.
The difficulty as I perceive it, is that in order to make something seem funny, it has to be exaggerated. But not too much, just enough to highlight the inappropriateness of some ordinary behavioural trait, without going so far as to make it seem ridiculous or hurtful. It is a difficult balance to achieve. Go too far and your characters become caricatures.
One of the reasons I never warmed to French and Saunders or Absolutely Fabulous was because, in my eyes, too many of the characters were caricatures, so over-played as to be unlike any normal human being. The same can be said of some of the characters in The Vicar of Dibley but that was always redeemed by the down to earth humanity of French’s own role.
So when I came across a novel by Dawn French I could not resist taking a serious look at it. Would her characters have the substance to sustain them through a 300 page book?
The answer, I am pleased to report, is yes. A Tiny Bit Marvelous presents a fairly ordinary middle class English family going through the turmoil that is inevitable when adolescent angst meets the mid-life crisis of a parent.
French has indeed achieved the balance I referred to above, exaggerating just enough to highlight the inherent humour of a situation without going so far as to make the whole thing seem ridiculous.
What the reader is presented with is something much more substantial than a series of sketches. Events build steadily to the inevitable crisis. Chapter points of view alternate as the story unfolds through the eyes of mother, daughter and son, each of whom has a distinct personality and writing style.
In the background father and grandmother provide a grounding of common sense as the other three become embroiled in a steadily escalating series of increasingly bizarre, but by no means unbelievable, events.
This was a satisfying and enjoyable read I’d happily recommend to anyone whether or not they enjoy French’s work in television.