Thank you dear reader, for opening this blog. I would just like to warn you before you go any further that this book review will contain spoilers!
I recently read Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French. Without a doubt the best part of the book is when four year old Willow tells her young Mother all about cheese and how he can help heal people, and the mother’s response of “Oh I see. Yes I am silly, because I usually call him Jesus…”
The rest of the book is a strange delight, the kind where you sit and ask yourself if you should be enjoying it so much.
Oh Dear Silvia revolves around the character of Silvia Shute, who is lying in a hospital bed in a coma, after she fell off her balcony. No one knows how she fell or if she will wake up.
Silvia is surrounded by people. There is Ed, Silvia’s kind ex-husband; Cassie, Silvia’s betrayed, hurt daughter; Tia, Silvia’s caring maid; Winnie, the devoted nurse; Jo, Silvia’s older, over-dramatic sister and Cat, an outsider to the family, and Silvia’s secret lover.
Other character’s play a roll within each character’s story, such as Willow, Silvia’s adorable Granddaughter and her angry military son Jamie.
As each character visits Silvia, they reveal a little bit more information about themselves and how they see her.
At the back of the book is a list book discussion questions which I am now going to answer!
- How do you think having a main character that was in a coma affected the narrative of the book? It was very different. Normally the main character is what fuels the book, what moves the story along, but here, to me she appeared to be a catalyst for her frustrated family members to get secrets and complaints off their chests.
- Silvia’s character evolves throughout the book and at the end we gain an understanding of her actions. How did this development affect your sympathy towards her behavior? I spent a great deal of the book wondering how a woman could just abandon her family, and I was intrigued by her relationship with Cat. At first I was unsure if they were lovers, or friends. I even speculated that she was stalker early on in the book. However, towards the end with all of the revelations from Cat on what they did, I suddenly understood Silvia’s actions. However, I didn’t particularly sympathies with Silvia. As the saying goes, there are two ways to skin a cat – no pun intended.
- Throughout the novel we see how different aspects of Silvia’s past have affected her decisions – in particular her abandonment of her children – do you feel her fears justified her actions? Whilst I can understand her fears, I don’t believe they justified her actions. She abandoned her whole family. If she wanted to be romantically involved with Cat, she could have left her husband despite what Cat had done. But to leave her children and Grandchild, I feel is terrible.
- Discuss the development of each character’s feelings towards Silvia and how they evolved throughout the course of the book. Winnie and Tia both care for Silvia in a both a professional manner. Their feelings don’t appear to change towards Silvia, but rather grow stronger. At the end of the book they seem to have new kind of respect and care for her. Ed and Cassie are both very angry at her, because she abandoned them. Through personal things that go on in lives, and the fact that they might never get another chance, they find it in themselves to forgive her and move forward with their lives. Jo appears to be self centered and slightly loopy but in as she visits more you find out that actually feels like she has failed her sister and feels guilty. Cat is a difficult one. It’s hard to say how her feelings change. She constantly “loves” her but feels anger towards her.
- What do you think was the true nature of Silvia and Cat’s relationship? I think it is a relation based on fear and want. Cat want’s Silvia and has found a way to make her stay with her. Silvia fears Cat because she is abusive, unstable and of course she helped Cat bury her murdered husband and so she can be connected to that. Cat is in control of this relationship, and along with her cocaine addiction she has some kind of power trip. All she wants is to be with Silvia. Silvia is now in a coma, and Cat is the one who put her there. Cat doesn’t feel guilt for this, but in actual fact is more worried about how she will cope without her. Her feelings towards Silvia while she is in a coma are completely selfish.
- How did you feel them motif of nature was used in the book? What did it signify to you? In all honesty, not much. It was obviously what helped Ed realize that his life isn’t over, and that he can start again but I didn’t really get much from it. It was however, beautiful imagery to have along side the story.
- How do you think Cassie’s relationship with Silvia will affect her relationship Silvia affect her relationship with her own daughter? I feel that it will make their relationship strong. Cassie knows what it is like to be hurt by her own mother so she would never dream of doing that to Willow.
- Discuss the morality of Silvia’s actions: Should she have gone to the police? Yes, I feel she should have. She may have wanted to protect her friend, and even if she wanted to be romantically involved with her, she didn’t think about the effects keeping Cat’s secret and what might happen in the future. Ultimately, it led to her death.
- How did you feel about Ed’s relationship with Winnie? Did you feel that it was inappropriate that she was his ex-wife’s nurse? No, I didn’t feel it was inappropriate. I feel that because Silvia is in a coma and didn’t actually know Winnie that the situation is different. I am also happy that Ed and Winnie found each other. As sad as Silvia’s situation is – I was close to tears by the end – it is good that something so lovely came out of it.
- Was the ending what you had expected and, if not, what had you thought/hoped would happen? It wasn’t the ending I expect which is great because I think predictable endings can be quite disappointing. I had thought that just as everyone thought Silvia was going to die, she might get better and wake up. I thought it would be revealed what had happened with Cat and although, it kind did come about, the reader never found out the reaction of the family and what they thought of it all.
When I finish a book, I often imagine what would happen to the characters after. I imagine that the police bring in Cat, who goes nuts. She starts trying to deny what happened and blaming it all on Silvia, claiming that she was jealous and wanted Cat for herself. Why else would she just abandon her family? The police then question the family, who combined with a new love for Silvia, and no idea that she was actually involved, tell the police that they have no idea what she is talking about and that Silvia would never do such a thing. They have no way of proving it, because even the evidence that Cat had hidden at Silvia’s is now gone thanks to Tia.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It was both funny and dark. The characters were the kind that you can actually feel for, both loving them and having a strong dislike for them. The imagery, especially for that of the Forrest is beautiful. It was emotional and I was sad to have finished it but would definitely recommend it. The language used in it was real, the characters talk the way real people talk.
10/10 Dawn French, you are a fantastic writer!