This book bills itself as a “thoroughly entertaining novel” filled with “wacky but believable characters”. Undisputedly, Playing Friends is a novel. The other claims are unfounded.
Ultimately, this book is about strange old people, annoying pregnant teenagers and imaginary friends from a ‘70s sitcom arguing like children. There is a messy birth, an implausible murder and some bad, bad sex. The result is about as entertaining as it sounds.
While attempting to be a meta-discourse on relationships and lies, Playing Friends is not even well written. While august literary digests such as the Horowhenua Mail and the Waikato Times have gushed over Duckworth’s previous books, her writing here is marred by overblown metaphors, similes and alliteration.
The narrative is derailed by constant and awkward use of lines like “the shadows poured like gravy over the inner city,” “the sky was as smooth a blue as the inside of Don’s favorite serving bowl” and “the till swallowed the money with a satisfied delunk!”
It is hard to see how the author got an OBE for services to literature when she produces writing such as: “making love can create a feeling as surely as a TV film, based on a true story, can create tears. Sniff.”
Perhaps she used up all her good word pictures in her first 14 novels.
The little details also jar a modern reader. While the author writes in way too much detail about the colour scheme of the last tram in Wellington, her 16 year old character is constantly listening to her Walkman. A Walkman? In 2007? Perhaps her portable gramophone was broken.
All the characters indulge in circular conversations and long flashbacks without ever really moving forward. The reader ends up with a better understanding of their eating habits than their real motivations.
The best thing about the clichéd and unrewarding ending is that it means the book is finished.