*I received a free ARC of this book with thanks to the author and Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources blog tours. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: 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.
Odyssey in a Teacup wasn’t quite what I had expected from the blurb! There are plenty of references to harpies, gorgons and various Greek gods, but they are all firmly rooted in the metaphorical and psychological: this is a coming-of-age novel, not a fantasy adventure! (Think Ally McBeal’s vivid imaginings, paired with Adrian Mole’s tact and sensitivity).
That said, this particular coming-of-age tale is a witty, blunt, crude account of family, friendship and the development into adulthood of someone who feels like a black sheep in every group or setting. This reads more like a comedic memoir than fiction, and the characters really come to life in all of their idiosyncratic glory.
Most of the story is told out of chronological sequence. We start in Ruth’s teens, hearing her reminiscences about her recent childhood and upbringing. Then the narrative leapfrogs forward to milestone events in her life, filling in more relevant backstory and humorous anecdotes through flashbacks and storytelling sessions with her closest friends.
Unlike most journey-to-adulthood stories, Ruth remains a work in progress very much throughout the novel. We see flashes of the ‘pest‘ she was and longs to be again, but they are quickly battened down by her social sensibilities. Most of the conflict here is between Ruth’s natural personality warring against the restrictions nurtured upon her.
The narrative and dialogue are packed with puns, and there is lots of focus on sex and bodily functions, and plenty of bad language. This is not a book for the stuffy or easily offended!
Somewhat less light-hearted and humourous though are the passages dealing with Ruth and Ralph’s respective phobias of fat people and amputees. Whilst I didn’t find these sections offensive (and I am pretty obese myself), I didn’t find much humour in them either, and just felt a bit uncomfortable, like Ruth’s dad was farting loudly and then waiting impatiently for me to laugh.
Mostly though, this was a fresh and humourous take on chaotic family life, on enduring friendships, and on finding your inner ‘pest‘ and using it well, if not wisely! Ruth and her quirky friends grew on me from the first page on, and by the end I found I was firmly rooting for Ruth… er, in a platonically encouraging way!
I ran through the house and found Ralph in his bedroom. He was lying on his bed curled up in the foetal position under a threadbare blanket. I nearly knocked over a bucket full of vomit next to the bed. The smell was so strong, I felt like adding to it. But this wouldn’t have helped Ralph, who was sobbing, and I so wanted to comfort him. The level of humiliation he’d experienced cut deep. At first, I didn’t know what to say or do. Stroking his head and cooing didn’t make much of a difference. Then I instinctively put my hand on his shoulder and oh so gently said… ‘Nice tackle.’
Ralph stopped crying and turned to look at me. A slow smile spread across his tear-stained face. The boy rallied! It was a defining moment, where I not only came to understand a man’s depth, but my counselling skills were born.
– Paula Houseman, Odyssey in a Teacup
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