Sunday, 12 May 2013

Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes

Chaplin and Company tells the story of Odeline, an eccentric young woman  from the suburbs who is obsessed with becoming a successful mime artist. After her mother dies, she moves to London to live on a canal barge called Chaplin and Company, and sets about building her career and searching for the father she has never met.

Odeline is a very interesting central character. The novel starts out by giving us some background on her mother, a slightly eccentric woman who lives alone and sticks rigidly to a routine. A huge fan of slapstick films, she takes herself off to the circus where she becomes enamoured with a clown. Odeline is the result of this brief liaison, and this short introduction to her mother allows us to understand how Odeline has turned out the way she has.

I thought it might be difficult to like Odeline; she’s extremely awkward in social situations, and she puts a high premium on honing her skills as a mime artist, to the exclusion of all else. But as I read, I realised that I did like her (quirks and all) and that I, the reader, was joining her on her journey to discover that having friends in life is a good thing.

And it’s this that really added to my enjoyment of Chaplin and Company. The fact that all the way through, the author invites you to come along, points out things that you should be looking at. At various points you are told to “come down closer” or to “join Odeline” as she embarks on an activity. I love this technique. It doesn’t detract from our getting to know Odeline, we still get to know what she is thinking and feeling, but it really allows us to feel as though we are being swept along for the ride with her.

Along the way, we meet the secondary characters who begin to encroach on Odeline’s life. There’s John Kettle, the alcoholic canal warden with a sad past; Ridley, the ponytailed, tattooed man from the boat next door who keeps disappearing on Odeline, only to pop up again. And then there’s Vera, the foreign lady at the barge cafe who has a mysterious past but who takes Odeline under her wing. All outsiders, just like Odeline; they soon start to realise that they could be ousiders together.

Threaded throughout the book, we get snippets of the history of Chaplin and Company, and come to realise how the boat ended up in Odeline’s hands. The story of the boat twists and turns, overlapping with Odeline’s own story.

I really enjoyed Chaplin and Company; I think it’s a fresh and unusual novel about a young woman finding herself, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes modern fiction but wants to try something a little different to the usual chick lit.

Chaplin and Company is pubished by Jonathan Cape and is released on 16th May 2013.

*I received an eBook preview copy of Chaplin and Company for the purposes of review. This review has also appeared on Goodreads.

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