In my last post I made the assumption that Ollie-O was a female in Maria Semple’s book. It wasn’t until later in the book I found that the word “he” was used in connection with Ollie. How wrong I had been.. But I find it very hard to get my mind around the idea that Ollie was a man. Of course it would be a woman organizing lunchies for mumsies. To me only a woman would have written a letter in that way.
Take the name Ollie. I always thought that “ie” was used for female diminutives and “y” for the male version. Perhaps people in Seattle do things differently ! So, Oliver or Olive. They are not names I hear very often these days. Perhaps we could have Ollie Twist, or Ollie Stone, or Ollie North, or how about Ollie Oyl for Popeye‘s girlfriend, and Laurel and Ollie in the movies.
.But it is not all satire. There are some memorable descriptions. At one stage Maria Semple wrote
“Just last night I woke up to pee. I was half asleep, with no concept of myself, a blank, and then the data started reloading……” . A few words that can say so much – that moment of neutrality before the pleasures or the pains start flooding back.
Regardless of the minor role played by Ollie in Maria Semple’s “ Where’d you go Bernadette”, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It ranged from hilarious to pompous to incredibly sad in parts, and with a conventional rounding-off at the end. And like any book worth its salt it made me think about many things. The author is satirizing Seattle but it could be any city. We all have similar problems, Satire is such a good way of highlighting them. I just happened to pick on a tiny bit of trivia to put my knickers in a knot !
I wish I were more adept at finding the past posts which had led my reading choices so that I could give credit where credit was due. About a month ago someone wrote about Maria Semple’s “Where’d you go, Bernadette” and the description was enough to make me decide to read it. It certainly wasn’t the garish cover which attracted me. But there was something in the blog which made me deviate from my usual conventional reading pattern. I started it today and have read fifty pages. By the time I got to page 10 and Ollie-O I was hooked.
Ollie-O has been brought into a school to motivate the Parents Association to raise money to encourage a better class of people to the school and to shift the location of the school away from the next-door wholesale seafood distributor. Families are divided into Subaru parents and Mercedes parents. Well, a Lexus is acceptable !
Because this is an American writer satirising her own American society I can laugh long and loud which perhaps I wouldn’t do if it was written by a non-American. I would have you all down on my head like a ton of bricks if I were to be so cruel to you !
When reading about Ollie-O I soon had a face and a voice for her. Some of you may know Audrey Gordon, the celebrity chef, with her snobbish and racist comments on TV. I’m sure Ollie-O looks and sounds like an American verion of Audrey.
But Ollie-O is only a small part of the book which is written in various voices in different forms of communication between the characters in the book – an extension of the idea used in Helene Hanff’s delightful “84 Charing Cross Road”, an exchange of snail-mail letters between a customer and a bookshop. In fact in the pre-internet days when I used to order books from James Thin booksellers in Edinburgh at the other side of the world I was quite sure I was going to become the new Helene Hanff !
But Ollie-O is only a small part of the book which is about a bright student and her bright parents. I am so looking forward to reading more.
Choice of school – for a better education or for social climbing ?