Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 15, 2019

The Time is Now, Monica Sparrow, by Matt Howard

Set in London, The Time is Now, Monica Sparrow by Australian author Matt Howard, is a tale of lives muted by loss yet it isn’t a dreary book.  Monica, whose car accident killed her brother Caleb on his 18th birthday, has become a hoarder, stuffing her flat with useless possessions; Diane, her sister has cultivated an abrasive personality (and a rare talent in droll one-liners); and her stepbrother Jamie the afterthought has almost obliterated himself as a presence.  In his case, it’s partly because the family was lumbered with him when Father couldn’t cope with the grief and debunked to his lady-love so that her son Jamie was surplus to requirements.  Mother is sliding into dementia, as if life is not worth remembering anyway.

The catalyst for change is Xavier, a minimalist so minimal that he signs his name with an ‘X’, prompting one of his co-workers to comment that people will think he’s illiterate.  Which would be droll, because Xavier is an editor at Wyatt Dean, a London publishing company.  He has but one author to nurture, the arrogant Tobias Balfour who churns out a bestseller each year, but Xavier acquires the task of editing Monica’s transition from self-publishing to print because Jacob, his boss, is Diane’s husband.  (Clearly, the author’s personal experience in the publishing industry provides authentic fodder for his novels!  In-house publishing politics seem fascinating… are they really like that, I wonder?)

Well, it turns out that Monica is not the only hidden talent, but to say more would be to spoil the plot.

Howard’s style is spare, but crafty in its allusions:

‘Is Monica a writer of literary fiction?’
Xavier knew this to be unlikely if she was indeed a hit on the Internet; that meeting place for angry folk and nitpickers.  A village square Xavier rarely visited.  It was one of the chief reasons, along with public transport, that Xavier had decided that people were not for him.
‘Commercial fiction,’ Jacob Meneksk said, then added, ‘Monica has several e-books for sale online already, but they’ll need serious editing to work in print.  She is currently writing another one which we will launch her with.  She’ll need help to keep the word count down.  That’s where you come in.’
Yasmin’s next remark was almost gushing.  ‘Monica’s female characters are central, however her male characters are also compelling.’
Something in the way she looked at Jacob as she said that caught Xavier’s attention, but it was quickly shuffled aside as the realisation hit him: ‘Romance fiction.’ (p.24)

Matt Howard has a great way with words: Monica’s kitchen is like the aftermath of an explosion at an Ikea store; her meeting with Xavier is like a whole Central Tokyo intersection of ways.  But what I really, really liked, was the moment of redemption.  A masterpiece of plotting without an ounce of schmaltz.

Towards the end of the book, the narrator makes a comment which attracted my attention:

Launches of books by mid-list authors — those for whom modest sales are expected and to whom the humblest of advances are paid — don’t attract media. (p. 254)

Perhaps if Xavier overcame his distaste for the Internet he might discover a worldwide media community of volunteer lit-bloggers taking up the slack? (With a worldwide readership and interactive commentary and — what’s more — staying power never achieved by newspaper reviews that land in the recycling bin).

This novel is more than just a wry look at the fad for offloading the detritus of life if it ‘no longer brings joy’.  Xavier takes it too far, so as to clear life, unscathed by the process of having lived it. Conversely, Monica finds that an unexpected gift had value and worth diminished by being but one of many such bowls her place harboured, most unused and rarely considered.  These extremes are more than merely comic: they represent psychological distress, as wise Aunty May knows:

Aunty May looked pleased that Monica had finally mastered her onerous drive for stuff.
‘I expect people see me as someone continually rewarding themselves.’
‘Huh,’ Aunty May mused.  ‘I reckon you as someone who deprives themselves.’
‘Of what?’ Monica asked.
Aunty May pondered.  ‘Real things — laughter, prospects, some well-deserved unencumbered joy.’  Then added, ‘A fair shot at future happiness.’ (p.247)

Sometimes, a frightened bird doesn’t know that it can fly…

Author: Matt Howard
Title: The Time is Now, Monica Sparrow
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2019, 282 pages
ISBN: 9781925760170
Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge

Available from Fishpond: The Time is Now, Monica Sparrow, and direct from Transit Lounge (where there are also reading group notes).

 


Responses

  1. I like novels about writing and publishing and I think I’d like this one. The problem is I’m reading so few ‘real’ books at the moment that I’d never get to it.

    We nearly caught up this weekend – assuming you were free – I was very late getting into Melbourne, 7pm Friday, and was planning on being stuck all weekend, but to my surprise the client had an overflow of freight and by midnight had reloaded me straight back to Perth. Now I’m sitting in limbo in a cafe in the Riverina waiting for news of road closures in WA (bushfires).

    Like

  2. Ah well, life will settle eventually, and you’ll have more leisure time I hope:)
    It’s been a rotten summer, weatherwise, IMO. We haven’t had any rain in ages…

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    • Had morning tea this morning with mum at my brother’s little farm near Bendigo. Very dry!

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      • Yes. We notice it because of the vegetable garden, it doesn’t feel good to be watering it so often…

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