Shelf Life

By Livia Franchini, 2019

Ruth has just been dumped by her long-time boyfriend. She thinks it might be the end of the world, and her dry, coarse narration makes it difficult to root for her. But over the course of this unique novel we come to understand why Ruth is the way she is, and that getting dumped could be the best thing that ever happened to her.

On it’s surface this novel could just be a fun breakup/recovery read; chapters are built around the last shopping list Ruth and her partner shared, which she keeps as a final momento of her lost relationship. But dig a little deeper and we get the picture of a woman who has suffered her whole life, who was brought up by someone we can only assume is a little bit crazy, and who has always been cast as an outsider.

It’s difficult to tell who within Ruth’s orbit are her true friends. For example, when she is selected as the maid of honor for a college “friend” Ruth can’t seem to shake free, her co-workers rally to take her shopping with the aim of helping her fit in. Ruth cuts loose at the hen do, but her aloof narration reminds us that this behavior is that of a woman in trouble, not one having the time of her life.

Obviously the title hearkens to that time of life when women are told their value is diminishing. Ruth is in her thirties, and now single. Time is a-wasting. But thirty can also be the time when women hear that clock ticking and decide to shed all manner of expectations and embrace time for themselves. Ruth is not precisely this kind of character, but I like to think she is getting there.

As is typical with novels that feature a narrator who is difficult to engage, this one takes more effort to connect with, but the conclusion made that patience well worth the wait. Three stars.

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