Misconduct by Bridget van der Zijpp
Victoria University Press, $30 REVIEWED BY SUSAN EDMUNDS
Who hasn’t thought about torching their ex-boyfriend’s car? Bridget van der Zijpp’s heroine gets the chance within the first few pages of her book, Misconduct — the story of a 40-year-old woman struggling to come to terms with the infidelity of her partner, the man she had thought she would have children with. And that is where the main problem with this novel first arises. Like a lot of the decisions Simone makes throughout the book, she’s setting the car alight before the reader understands why, or begins to get to know her.
The arson starts a chain of events that end with 40-year-old Simone realising, in a fit of understatement, that she needs to take a break. She sets off on what could have been an entirely predictable journey of self discovery, complete with obligatory mindless fling and angst about whether she will ever be able to have a baby.
Her rehabilitative break comes in the form of a stint staying at a friend’s aunt’s beach house, looking after her dog. It offers up all the expected comparisons of the faithfulness of men and animals, but the premise is saved from cliché by the supporting cast. Instead of the band of hopeless-in-love alcoholics that usually show up in novels to help a woman over a broken heart, Simone starts to mix with a group of gin-drinking, bridge-playing pensioners.
These characters had more depth than the heroine herself at times, although I still found myself wondering what they looked like, sounded like, and how being in such a different environment made Simone feel. Van der Zijpp’s descriptions felt a bit like shorthand.
The only time she really delved into any intricacies was when she was describing Simone’s job. Van der Zijpp is a journalist and gave her heroine the same career. So, instead of giving the general idea of what work was like for Simone, or how she interacted with her co-workers, she was bogged down with details of newsrooms and political rounds.
Three quarters of the way through the novel, I was certain Simone would decide she did not want another relationship. Not one of the surviving elderly marriages around her could have been described as happy and she seemed to have found peace of sorts in the small beach town.
But instead of making a statement about it being okay to be single at 40, van der Zijpp guides her heroine to a happy ending with a man – even though, right up until almost the end, I got the feeling she did not really mind which one. In a book with any romance at all, I want to understand why the heroine fancies the man she falls for. I don’t want convenience to have anything to do with it.
The eccentricities of the elderly neighbours make Misconduct worth reading but I was left unsatisfied. Simone was more the strange woman you might observe behaving oddly at a party than a friend. I did not know her enough to understand her, or to believe that, if her next relationship did not work out, she would not be back torching cars again.
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Susan Edmunds is a West Auckland-based journalist and reviewer.