Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Thirty Second World by Emma van der Vliet #review

Title: Thirty Second World
Author: Emma van der Vliet
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2013

Anyone who has ever had a career in advertising will relate to the shenanigans in Emma van der Vliet’s Thirty Second World. We follow the lives of two women, both at different parts of their careers.

Alison, or Al, as she prefers to be known, is a control freak who thrives on micromanaging everyone and everything around her. Consequently, and despite her tough demeanour, she is blind to her own needs. She is a woman who wants everything – a career and a family – and in her bid to prove her worth, her relationships with her partner, friends and children suffer.

On the other side of the coin we have Beth, who’s just starting out in the high-pressure world of commercial filmmaking. Though she has much to learn, about the work and the people, she brings a refreshing attitude to the jaded crew she joins. Beth hits the ground running, despite her lack of experience. Even though she finds her colleagues’ behaviour a bit trying at times, she clearly has a passion for her chosen career. Her primary problem, however, lies at home, with her boyfriend Dan, who struggles with the fact that Beth is getting sucked into the industry.

Beth and Dan’s relationship comes under pressure, which is not helped by the arrival of a predatory male colleague at Beth’s work. Readers will be able to see the inevitable confrontation coming from a mile away – and it does become more than a little bit uncomfortable for all parties involved.

On the whole, there isn’t much of an earth-shattering plot here. Rather, we see the lives of two women bound in work and friendship, come to important realisations about themselves and the people around them. This is a story about friendship and love, set against the backdrop of the Cape Town film industry, with all its ridiculous demands on people’s time. The writing is detailed, and Van der Vliet is adept at painting detailed, fascinating characters. A bit of head-hopping in the narrative did annoy me, as well as a somewhat implausible, out-of-the-blue event involving a spinster aunt near the end, but overall I found this to be an entertaining read that felt spot on regarding the advertising industry I’ve come to know and loathe.

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