Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerilla Knitters Institute

Book review: Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerilla Knitters Institute
by Maggie Groff

I’ll be honest, I picked up this novel thinking the Mad Men and Bad Girls might make up some salacious stories of the 1960s advertising industry.

I was surprised then when I turned it over and realised it wasn’t set in New York at all but on our very own Gold Coast. At first I was disappointed, tales of the era’s hanky panky are riveting. Then I realised the book would qualify for my next review of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, so I took it home and, although it didn’t have tales of martini fuelled shenanigans in advertising offices, I am very glad I did.

Byron Bay based freelance journalist Scout Davis is offered an assignment investigating a cult that has left the US and set up shop on the Gold Coast. At the same time she is helping her sister, a teacher at an exclusive high school, find out who has been cutting up underwear of a group of school girls during swim practice. And while Scout is juggling the two cases, she’s also planning a clandestine urban beautification stunt with a group of ‘guerrilla knitters,’ all the time trying to divert the suspicions of the very attractive local policeman from her late night activities.

This is Maggie Groff’s first fiction novel, having previously written Mothers Behaving Badly and Hoax Cuisine.

I really liked that the novel shows what a hodge podge of cultures Byron Bay and the Gold Coast is. Hippies rub shoulders with socialites in organic coffee shops and on sandy beaches, and the dense, verdant rainforests make the perfect retreat for anyone trying to drop out of society.

It’s a different view of modern Australia, showing life outside of the country’s big cities or the red centre that tends to be popular with novelists. From my own visits to this area I’d say Groff is spot on with the society she’s showing here. Groff has captured that the area manages to be both laid back and thriving, and populated with eccentrics and highly paid professionals alike.

The action is told in the first person by Scout, so it’s her voice we’re hearing throughout. She is someone I was very happy to spend time with, particularly since she’s a fellow tea-drinker and always has a cuppa on the go for visitors. We’d initially disagree over her choice of leaves, she’s makes her own blend based on Earl Grey, a tea I abhor, but we’d agree to a shared pot of Orange Pekoe.

There’s a steady pace kept up throughout the novel, and while the two investigations aren’t linked by events, they both show how individuals can control through fear and manipulation, be they charismatic quasi-religious leaders or rather nasty schoolgirls. The central themes are the misuse of power and helping the vulnerable take their lives back.

Scout is backed up by an assortment of characters we get to meet throughout the novel, with a strong showing by devastatingly handsome cop Rafe, who is also a friend of Scout’s war correspondent boyfriend, Toby.

There’s a part of me that was skeptical reading about Rafe, he certainly doesn’t seem like any Aussie male I’ve ever met (although I would love to meet him) but on the other hand I say let’s keep encouraging writers to dream up more characters like him, in the hope our real life blokes rise to their standard.

I’m sure many women would wish they were in Scout’s place when Rafe starts up a charm offensive to show he has plans for her nights that don’t involve knitting, although Scout seems oddly unperturbed by any real conflictions of loyalty to her partner away covering the conflict in Afghanistan. That’s partly because Scout is a little older than Stephanie Plum and her ilk, and it makes her a much more open-minded character.

I would have liked to see more of the guerrilla knitters, they’re an intriguing bunch who we only meet by their code names: Bodkin, Purl One, Needles, and Old Blood. Scout even inducts her grown up nephew into the group, and he throws himself into their activities with an enjoyable abandon.

Hopefully Groff will spend time on the group’s late night activities, decorating local hot spots with home made knitted decorations.

I’d be there with skeins of wool in hand.

Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerilla Knitters Institute is published by Pan Macmillan Australia. This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.

Other reviews
The Women in Black

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this too and am looking forward to the next book. Thanks for sharing your review

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd out