Tuesday, July 03, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Out of Character by Vanessa Craft

Journalist Emma Gordon lives a staid, unremarkable life, most of which is spent within books. Haunted by the memory of her mother’s abandonment and struggling with her father Jack’s impending marriage, Emma seeks refuge with her favourite fictional characters avoiding a reality she can’t handle. Jack is convinced Emma is wasting her time at Oxygen magazine and is dismayed at her lack of ambition.

Seeking something she hasn’t been able to define, Emma finds herself volunteering to go undercover in one of London’s top gentlemen’s clubs surprising even herself. Completely out of her depth in this glittering world of sex, power and facades, Emma struggles to find her feet and the angle for her story while trying to create an alter-ego who can succeed where shy Emma can not. Drawn into the unreality of life at Platinum, the lines between Emma’s role as an undercover journalist and the increasingly fascinating life of a top earning stripper begin to blur until the night that Jack finds her mid-dance and they must finally deal with their past.

Out of Character, the debut novel from lifestyle journalist Vanessa Craft, germinated from a visit Craft made to one of London’s top gentlemen’s clubs to visit a friend who was dancing. She inadvertently spotted a colleague at the tip rail and from that glimpse came the moment of dénouement when Jack spots Emma on stage and a novel where Craft could explore the idea of two worlds colliding and its impact on ego and identity.

In Emma Gordon, Craft has created a fascinating heroine. Readers will be mesmerized by the journey Emma undergoes from a tourist of her own life to the birth of Phoenix, her seductive alter ego. Finding her place within the glittering world of Platinum is a struggle for Emma, who has spent years being an invisible observer of life. Her first night dancing stage ends with her heel caught in her dress and catapulting head first into a customer’s lap. Emma embodies the awkward, self-conscious child found inside everyone and readers will quickly empathize with her and glory in her new found confidence.

While Craft never explicitly questions the role of identity in maintaining a connection to reality, this is an underlying theme within Out of Character. Emma has lived without a strong link to the world since her mother’s sudden departure, with Jack providing his skewed perspective where money and power are the only goal worth pursuing. It is unsurprising then that her identity has been so easy to walk away from. Emma’s whole life has been about creating alternate realities and adopting the persona of Phoenix is incredibly seductive. Phoenix is powerful and confident in her own sexuality and attractiveness, and provides a certainty which Emma has never possessed and always wanted.

Out of Character is a difficult novel to put down. This reviewer approached the book with doubts, uncertain how it could be about empowerment when dealing with exotic dancers. Craft doesn’t directly approach issues of feminism, choosing instead to frame it within Emma’s personal journey. While readers will find few obvious answers, the questions raised will continue to engage readers and it is anticipated that Out of Character will provoke fascinating book group debates.

View the book's trailer here.

ISBN10: 1552638235
ISBN13: 9781552638231

Trade Paperback
288 Pages
Publisher: Key Porter Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2007
Author Website: www.vanessacraft.com



kimbofo said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I must add it to my wish list.

Nadine Dajani said...

Thanks for the great reading suggestions - I must admit, I probably wouldn't have picked up this one (or the last one your reviewed, Petropolis) if you hadn't highlighted it.