John Purcell – The Girl on the Page

Harper Collins, Fourth estate, 2018

John Purcell first published with Penguin Random House under the pseudonym of Natasha Walker with the erotic fiction trilogy The Secret Lives of Emma – which I haven’t read. He is Director of Books at Booktopia, apparently Australia’s largest online bookseller, and has an insider’s knowledge of the book publishing industry.

It is this that drives the story of the girl – Amy Winston is a freelance editor with a wild lifestyle who is thrown together with literary fiction giants Helen and Malcolm Taylor. The saga of the lives she bumps into in the course of trying to deliver Helen’s latest work to the publisher is in the end the stuff of domestic dramas – love, sex, betrayal, death, money, ambition.

It is a ripping read, especially for the deeply rooted book lover, dipping as it does in and out of the real world of literary and not so literary fiction, questioning the relevance of this definition, inviting us to grapple the notion of ‘good writing’, asking what makes a best seller less than a great work of literature and so on.

The relationships between and among the people of this book are as complex as life itself. The front page blurbs describe it as ‘dark comedy’, ‘hilarious’. I didn’t find it so, which is not a criticism – for me there is so much tragedy in the book, so much to be lamented,  that any comical elements are well outweighed.