Odyssey in a Teacup by Paula Houseman
Encounters with a pair of supersized Y-fronts; a humourless schoolmarm with an unfortunate name and monstrous yellow incisors; and a tut-tutting, big-breasted, modern-day gorgon are the norm for Ruth Roth. She’s used to crazy. Her mum squawks like a harpy and her dad has a dodgy moral compass. Add in daily face-offs with a relentlessly bitchy mirror, and Ruth’s home life feels like a Greek tragicomedy.
She hankers for the ordinary. But blah is not a good fit for someone who doesn’t fit in. And isn’t meant to.
Ruth’s vanilla existence is an issue for her besties—her hot-looking, obsessive-compulsive cousin and soul mate (who needs to do everything twice-twice), and her two closest girlfriends. With their encouragement and a good homoeopathic dose of ancient mythology, Ruth embarks on an odyssey to retrieve her spirit. She’s confronted with her biggest challenge ever, though, when one of these friends sends her spiralling back into a dark place.
The decision she must make can either bring her out or launch the mother of all wars in her world.
Paula Houseman has given us a veritable cornucopia of characters who are fascinating, utterly adorable, terrible and yet compelling, but like Greek mythology and the people who inhabit those tales, we are driven ever onward through Ruth’s take on her family, friends, and life. And just like the tales of ancient Greece with which Houseman has underpinned her novel, we meet the heroes, the harpies, those who think they’re gods, and those who have to blunder through the havoc these creatures wreak in the lives of those around them. Its great!
She writes with vigour and humour, giving the reader no time to excuse themselves from the reading room. Her highly comic and satirical look at Ruth’s (and Ralph’s) navigation through the minefield of their respective families and assorted relatives, is nothing short of brilliant.
Starting with her single-syllable name, Ruth Roth is terrific. The cruel and demoralising treatment she suffers at the hands of her family is appalling, and yet this cheeky, sassy teenager manages to emerge in adulthood relatively intact. The middle name saga is hilarious, but it is also highly revealing on several levels. Ruth’s father shines a spotlight on the culture in which she’s growing up, specifically when she asks why her brother has middle names but she doesn’t. He tells her:
“The extra initials will look good printed in his cheque book.”
But what about her cheque book?
“Girls don’t need one.” And there it was. Four bloody words that set the precedent for my standing in the family, and beyond.
I seethed with indignation! Her mother wasn’t any better. Her refrain of why can’t you be like everyone else? just irritated the hell out of me; I travelled that road. The hallmark of a great writer is their ability to make their characters, the situations they find themselves in, and the feelings they experience, entirely relatable for the reader. For me Ruth’s life experience aroused so many memories and so many conflicting emotions, but the author writes with such wit and empathy that you cannot help laughing and crying at the same time. You never wallow.
Ralph is utterly adorable and vexing at the same time. His clothes, his treatment at the hands of his father and brothers, his gawky looks do not make for an attractive child, and yet his mind is fabulous. Clever, inquiring, and unashamedly adroit at using his intelligence against his tormentors, he’s that awkward kid you just want to hug and take home. Duck – that’s all I’m saying. He and Ruth, along with friends Maxi and Vette, talk about at length about subjects like school, religion, and family, but of course their minds are dominated by thoughts of boys, girls, kissing, and sex. Ralph joins these discussions, he’s very much one of the pack.
Odyssey in a Teacup is a love song to those who can’t be like everyone else. It sings of their difference – to their parents, to their siblings, and to their wider family, and positively resonates with their inability to conform to the lives and behaviours their parents want to thrust upon them. You will laugh until you cry; you will cry woefully and with sympathy, but in the end you will love the voyage wherever it takes you, and the company you keep on it.
This is another title that is firmly on my Books of the Year list, and is the first of three books. (The remaining two will be reviewed in the fullness of time.)
While you wait…do yourself a favour. Read it!
from Amazon UK
Paula Houseman was once a graphic designer. But when the temptation to include ‘the finger’ as part of a logo for a forward-moving women’s company proved too much, she knew it was time to give away design. Instead, she took up writing.
She found she was a natural with the double entendres (God knows she’d been in enough trouble as a child for dirty wordplay).
As a published writer of earthy chick lit and romantic comedy, Paula gets to bend, twist, stretch and juice up universal experiences to shape reality the way she wants it, even if it is only in books. But at the same time, she can make it more real, so that her readers feel part of the sisterhood. Or brotherhood (realness has nothing to do with gender).
Through her books, Paula also wants to help the reader escape into life and love’s comic relief. And who doesn’t need to sometimes?
Her style is a tad Monty Pythonesque because she adores satire. It helps defuse all those gaffes and thoughts that no one is too proud of.
Paula lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband. No other creatures. The kids have flown the nest and the dogs are long gone.
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