Shelf Life by Livia Franchini
‘An impressive, Sally Rooney-esque debut novel’ New Statesman
‘Shelf Life is whip-smart, slyly heartbreaking, and I felt the truth of it in my bones. Franchini dissects ideas of love, dating and identity in a way that feels both ruthless and humane. I loved it.’
Sophie Mackintosh, author of The Water Cure
Launching an intelligent, perceptive new voice in fiction, Shelf Life is the exquisite, heart-wrenching story of a woman rebuilding herself on her own terms.
Ruth is thirty years old. She works as a nurse in a care home and her fiancé has just broken up with her. The only thing she has left of him is their shopping list for the upcoming week.
And so she uses that list to tell her story. Starting with six eggs, and working through spaghetti and strawberries, and apples and tea bags, Ruth discovers that her identity has been crafted from the people she serves; her patients, her friends, and, most of all, her partner of ten years. Without him, she needs to find out – with conditioner and single cream and a lot of sugar – who she is when she stands alone.
‘A Bridget Jones for cynical souls’ Natasha Bell, author of The Perfect Wife
When you start a book while keeping your expectations in check because the synopsis was very promising and a bit unique but then the book disappoints you in various ways, what are you supposed to do?
That’s the question that kept me from writing the review for this one for a few days.
After a decade of being together, Ruth is left alone when her partner Neil leaves her. All she has after that are the memories of Neil, her work as a nurse in an old people’s home and lists of grocery shopping. We are given glimpses into her life throughout the book by means of items in the grocery list and I have to admit that the format really intrigued me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The idea that every single item from their list is cleverly incorporated into the chapters made this book more enjoyable than it really is.
I do wish that the pacing was a bit better and that all the characters we see were a bit more three-dimensional, including Ruth. Neil seemed a bit off putting and a bit creepy at times. I wish we got more of Alanna as she seemed to genuinely care about Ruth. I wish she was more fleshed out, Ruth and Alanna were friends for a long time and if only I was shown that part of their relationship. They had history, didn’t they? It should have been made obvious in the way really good and long friendships can be shown. Oh, well.
Part of the reason my rating went down could be because of the format of the book not always working on my Kindle. I think this book clearly had great potential but somewhere the writing and characters felt a bit flat to me. There are times when I truly felt for Ruth, there was a lot that the author could have unpacked with her. Her childhood, her relationship with her mother, her friendship with Alanna, her eating issues! So many things that feel like they weren’t explored enough.
However the ending did feel a bit better, I like thinking that Ruth did have an optimistic outlook ahead of her. In the end, I think what this book set out to achieve was Ruth finding parts of herself that were on the mend, Ruth understanding that despite her current circumstances, she did have the gumption to forge her life ahead. It it a hopeful ending but I just wish I could have connected more to the people and the plot a bit more.
It is certainly worth a read despite my less than effusing review because the author does show promise and the book does pose a few questions that might remain with you even after you are done with it.