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Review: The Girl Who Just Appeared by Jonathan Harvey

I’m always on the look out for books that are completely recommendable.  By that I mean, accessible to read without being simplistic.  Well plotted without being contrived.  Warm.  Felt.

The Girl Who Just Appeared is one of those books.  Written by Coronation Street script writer Jonathan Harvey, it’s big on sentiments and emotion tugging, and has a fun and well drawn sense of place – in this case, Liverpool.

Holly Smith finds out that she is adopted at the age of eight.  But it isn’t until her adopted parents are both dead that she feels able to go and trace her birth mother.  When she sees the Liverpool flat she knows her real mother once lived in come up for rent, she takes it straightaway, leaving the metropolis and a PA job with a demanding starlet in her wake.

I decided that TGWJA was going to be the easiest review I’ve done since The Undertaking (which I think I summed up as “harrowing”) because everything amazing about it was there in the first chapter:

The respectable Jean Smith’s passion for church music only narrowly eclipses her passion for involving her adopted daughter, Holly, in its production.  One day, she takes Holly to London to see Miss Saigon.  They go to McDonalds, which is a treat beyond Holly’s wildest dreams.  There she experiences her first Filet o’fish, the anticipation and delight of which are conveyed in delicious, teasing slo-mo.  And just as we are sharing with Holly this experience of a lifetime, her mother comes blundering in with an absolutely terribly and hilariously executed revelation of Holly’s provenance.

This is followed by Holly’s dawning realisation, even through the fog of her emotions, that she can manipulate her flustered mother in the ensuing confusion like never before.  Holly provides the perfect unwitting foil, with her child’s naivity, to her mother’s uptightness.

What follows is more of the same – laugh out loud humour, fast pacing, confusion and unexpected emotions.  

It also tackles the class question that hangs over literature in general; readers and writers alike tend not to be working class.  The middle class’s way of expressing itself on paper tends to be more fluent, more grammar-and-spelling standardised and therefore easier to read (just ask anyone who has ever glanced over a selection of bottom set Y10 essays), and more complex and therefore interesting than the working class’s.  How do writers get across the themes and events of working class life without sounding inauthentic?

Jonathan Harvey achieves this remarkably well by using a couple of short diary entries, belonging to a boy called Darren, who lived in the same house as Holly’s real mother.  Darren’s claustrophobic and hopeless world, where one needs to menace first before one is menaced, and where pleasures are rare, fleeting and not to be passed up, is tenderly drawn, and done with genuine insight.  Darren is not the world’s best speller and there are some wonderful comic moments, such as when he is expressing his fear of someone he loves being “used as a porn,” and his delight at dressing a baby up for a wedding as a “flour girl”.  The effect of his spelling is not to make you laugh at him, but to highlight the fact that despite his lack of education, he is as sincere and good hearted as anyone more eloquent than he.

One of the best books I’ve ever read.  I can’t remember whose blog I first saw this on, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart!




  1. Isn’t it wonderful when a book like that comes along? Have you ever read Liane Moriarty? I find her my top read in the easy, accessible, good story, makes you laugh, makes you cry kind of category. How intriguing that the author of TGWJA used to write for Coronation Street – I do think scriptwriters have a leg-up on fiction because they know how to do good dialogue!

    • I haven’t read any no… but the makes you laugh bit is intriguing. I just want to repeat for the umpteenth time just how skillful I think that is.

      It’s true – I think good dialogue is difficult to write because we are not attuned to the rhythms and melodies in people’s speech patterns, being so impatient to get to the content within.

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