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Sean-Paul Thomas

Rating: ****

When Joe Miller leaves prison after five years, he has very few expectations. His life is in tatters, his ex-wife refuses to let him see their daughter and he’s back working a couple of shifts as a plumber on a building site. However, he still harbours dreams of becoming a scriptwriter, and a chance encounter with a middle-aged French actress sets in motion a chain of events that might just help Joe overcome the past and realise his ambition…

Audrey is fun slice of fairly light-hearted escapism although Joe’s backstory is anything but humorous. Notwithstanding the darker territory of Joe’s reason for being incarcerated, which is revealed just after halfway, Audrey zips along in a sweetly satisfying manner with a touch of intrigue, and I read the book in a couple of sittings. It’s addictive; Joe is likeable and his relationship with old work buddy, Colm, is engaging and quietly heart-warming. Colm is so well-realised that you find yourself cringing along with Joe at some of his antics and the dialogue between them was amusingly authentic.

The plot; older, experienced woman meets younger, slightly introverted guy is given a number of twists and, consequently, feels fresh and creative. Although their relationship forms the nucleus of the narrative, Joe’s development, both as a person and a writer are always at the forefront. There is clearly quite a lot of subjectivity in Joe; sometimes this distracts from a character, but in the case of Audrey, Mr Thomas’ passion amplifies Joe’s making his aspirations entirely credible. Occasionally, the prose is touched with a little too enthusiasm, there are a few repetitive areas and, in places, the pace is excessively breezy but it’s infectious and does not detract.

The contrasts between Joe’s life in Edinburgh and Audrey’s in Paris are stark but balance well and are not over-played. The landscapes of the different settings are authentically brought to life, especially Paris and the film references add to the charm of the city.

Audrey herself is an enigma; both frothy and complex. Mr Thomas manages to keep her the right side of breathy, French caricature and yet I felt the chemistry between her and Joe was lacking in parts, and found Audrey somewhat unlikeable. Nevertheless, it was a nicely inspired touch to make her in her late forties, and there was some insightful commentary on the nature of society towards women of this age and beyond. The story would not have worked anywhere near as well had she been younger.

Audrey is an original, imaginative and entertaining novel. Well worth a read.

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