‘Everything Changes But You’ by Maggie Alderson

Strap in, this is a long post.

Usually when I have the opportunity to go to an author talk, I make sure I’ve READ THE BOOK before I front up to the talk. Usually. But not this time – a few days in Byron Bay and a bunch of nights out got in the way. So, when I trotted down to Readings in Hawthorn to hear all about Everything Changes But You, I didn’t know what to expect (except of course the fact that Maggie always does brilliant, really entertaining talks… that often include handbag discussions as well – yay!).

THE MEETING MAGGIE BIT

I took my Mum with me to the talk. She’s a huge Maggie fan (having read her columns religiously and also because Maggie has “such good hair” – this is high praise indeed from my Mum) but also because on hearing I was going said “I never get to do anything good…” (this is from a woman who has just returned from seven weeks abroad). So, with our best handbags (mine a neon yellow Electra clutch from Mimco) and our newly acquired but yet to be read copies of Everything Changes But You, we hit Readings.

Maggie usually has a theme for her talks. Last time it was all about vintage fashion (and audience members brought along their favourite vintage fashion finds, which they knew to do because Maggie gave us the heads-up via Twitter). This time Maggie focused on the questions she is most often asked. It was fascinating. I love hearing writers talk about their writing habits.

Maggie was incredibly generous with all the details she shared about her new book, her inspirations and her writing process. We got to see the ‘mood boards’ she created for the novel (her time as a magazine editor coming into play), pictures of her work space and some of her ‘lucky charms’ (including a turquoise-haired troll dressed in Chanel fabric scraps. Yes, really).

But the really, really good bit was when she started talking about the books she loves and more specifically, the books she turns to when she’s stuck. I was taking mental notes like mad and I hope I haven’t left anything out (I might need to Tweet Maggie to check my facts) but she did reel off a list of authors and books that I promptly added to my wish-lists –

The Art of Fiction by David Lodge

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard

Dear Writer by Carmel Bird

On Writing by Stephen King

and in terms of what she likes to read for fun, she greatly admires The Pregnant Widow and The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis and anything by Elizabeth Taylor (I concur).

My ‘take-home message’ was this – want to write? Sit down and do it. Yes, Maggie mulls over storylines for a bit (and she used a lovely stockpot analogy) and she also has a great time creating her mood-boards (which naturally require much time spent flicking through Vogue and Country Life, especially the pages with male models). But ultimately, she treats her writing like a job – she goes to her office at a set time each day and bangs out a certain number of words. Some days it takes longer than others. It’s refreshing to hear all of this. Not that I’m about to sit down and write a novel but it is nice to know that the whole ‘tortured artist, writing until their fingers are bleeding’ is not a pre-requisite for a successful life as an author.

Lastly, did I mention that Maggie is an awesome person to follow on Twitter? Find her at @MaggieA.

THE REVIEW BIT

Everything Changes But You examines the tricky issue of marriage between people from different countries.

Hannah and Matt are very happy together, living in London with their two young children. Hannah has a job she loves as a beauty editor and Matt is always just about to break through as a songwriter. But then events start to pull them apart, with Hannah certain they’d be much better off down in the English countryside with her family – and Matt’s mum needing them with her, back in Sydney, 17 000 kilometres away.

There’s also Marguerite, Hannah’s mother, and Ali, Matt’s vivacious young cousin visiting from Australia. Hannah, Marguerite and Ali all have unsettling secrets – but how much do you share?

Despite living in a world where technology allows us to have no boundaries, homesickness still happens. You can Skype, tweet, Facebook, email and phone someone on the other side of the world and yet it’s not the same as having them next to you. Home is where the heart is? Perhaps. But sometimes your heart is in two places. I have many friends who are married to people from other countries (combinations of Australian/ English/ New Zealander/ Canadian mostly) and there never seems to be a one hundred percent perfect solution. My friends with the most sensible arrangement (Aussie/ Canadian) have a separate bank account which always has enough money for a flight ‘home’ – it’s their ‘home sickness insurance policy.

There are two things that always stand out in Alderson’s stories. Firstly, the dialogue. She has the repartee between her characters down pat. It makes me quite sure that in real life, Alderson is surrounded by a sparkling (and I would like to use the word ‘gay’ here, in its original sense) group of friends, their influence wending its way onto the pages.

The second is Alderson’s portrayal of friendships. In the case of Everything Changes But You, it’s all about male friendships (note, a nice diversion from the focus on females in chick-lit) – in particular that between Charlie (Hannah’s father) and Anthony (his drinking buddy and work colleague) and between Matt and the charming ‘Toxic’ Pete. The friendships between these men are perfection. I’d go so far as to say they stole the show. The high-jinx, the banter, the ‘shit-stirring’, the pints shared – it’s all in the little details and Alderson captured them in four memorable characters. Interestingly, Alderson gives you a valid reason to hate (or be a little pissed off) all four of the male characters and yet, you don’t.

“Matt was on his way to the airport when the Pete rang.
‘Maaaaaaaate,’ he said.
‘Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate,’ said Matt back, laughing. It was all part of their repertoire and never failed to make him feel fully earthed…”

It wasn’t until I read this that I realised my husband answers every phone call from a friend with “Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate”!

There’s a jolly scene in the book where the family attend the village fete and whilst there, sample lots of cakes. I couldn’t get past the Victoria Sponge. I really, really love a good sponge cake but it is the one thing I have had absolutely no success cooking. My mum reckons you can either do a fab pav or a fab sponge – but not both!

4/5 There are enough characters and small intrigues to keep Everything Changes But You ticking along nicely. There are no gut-wrenching plot twists or unresolved endings – that’s not Alderson’s style. Instead you’ll get a lovely read, lots of fab fashion details and you’ll meet four highly memorable male characters.

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5 responses

  1. Excellent review – I have now added this book to my Christmas wish list. Interesting that she turns to David Lodge – I haven’t come across his name in years, but used to enjoy reading his work. BTW an attempt at my first sponge cake is on the cards – I’m no good at pav, so I’m hoping for success!

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