Today I’m sharing with you all my review of Shelf Life by Livia Franchini. I’ve had the hardback copy on my shelf for a few months but thought I would time this review to coincide with the book’s paperback release date of January 9th 2020. Isn’t the cover fantastic? Such a quirky image.
Ruth is thirty years old. She works as a nurse in a care home and her fiance 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.
First a little note on the book description above. Yes, at the core of this novel, this is exactly what this book is about. Ruth, our main character, is washing up the dishes one evening after dinner when her fiance tells her he no longer wants to be with her. After 10 years together this obviously leaves Ruth devastated and through their latest and last shopping list we read of Ruth and Neil’s story. However, what we also get and what I felt you don’t get from the blurb is one hell of a different kinda book!! The Flatshare this isn’t.
As you read, not only do you discover the clever and bizarre construction of the book, with all it’s different formats and narratives, from present day first person, to weird dreams to text messages from the past, but you reveal a very dark and troubled world that these two people live in and this is what I was not expecting from the book at all.
It’s a hard book to review as it is so quirky and different yet also a very dark and serious look at relationships. On one hand you learn very personal and deep aspects to Ruth’s personality yet at the same time you don’t necessarily get to really know her. As soon as I maybe thought I had an understanding the author throws a curve ball and managed to surprise me again! I found the parts detailing the character of Neil the most startling and really didn’t see those coming at all!
It’s a very quick book to read, due to it’s format, but don’t be too quick, as there is a lot to take in and all of it very relevant to the tale, even if at first it doesn’t seem to be. A short story that packs a lot in. I enjoyed the part’s that featured Ruth’s work colleague Alanna and although at first I wasn’t sure if she was trustworthy I was glad she came good in the end and I felt that she did perhaps actually care for Ruth. The book deals with some hard hitting topics like eating disorders and stalking but all I felt were dealt with sensitivity by the author yet without making their impact in the story any less effective.
As I read along I seemed to enjoy the middle section far more than the beginning of the story as I didn’t particularly get much from the text sequences and I thought the dream sections a little bizarre, but on reflection and thinking back whilst writing this review I think I enjoyed it more than I first thought. It has elements that have stayed with me for some days after finishing the book and I am glad I decided to read it.
If you fancy reading something a little different give it a go.