Melanie Basta and the Order of the Book

19 August 2015

Confession time: The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and his Ex by Gabrielle Williams is the first YA book I’ve reviewed for this column that I have not previously read as a kid or a teenager. A certain amount of nostalgia has therefore taken over each previous review that I’ve written.

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and his Ex is Williams’ debut novel, which was published earlier this year. It is set in 1980s Melbourne where Guy, Rafi, Luke and Penny – our four main characters – find that their lives intersect by way of a stolen painting and a traumatic accident.

On the first page we see that the story alludes to the Australian Cultural Terrorists, who “stole Picasso’s Weeping Woman off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held it to ransom, demanding an increase in government funding for artists in Victoria”. However, this isn’t what the story is primarily about.

The story is told from the four different perspectives, but there is little complexity: Williams doesn’t really delve into her characters’ psyches. Guy is true to his name: he’s just some guy. He’s a ‘nice guy’ and shows he can be brave when it comes to the crunch, but ultimately we don’t know that much about him. Rafi is a perfectionist and a good student but she makes one big mistake, and other than that, she is busy dreaming about a boy. Penny is a stressed, 23-year-old young mother who is still in love with her “Bastard Ex” Luke, and Luke is a selfishbut well renowned artist.

There is little character insight. I’d like to see why Guy is so blasé about life. I’d like to know how Rafi is really affected by her mother’s ill state of mind. I’d like to hear about Penny’s ambitions and what she cares about in the world besides Luke. I’d like to learn about Luke’s approach to art and how he really feels about having a son.

Although there are little slices of humour and astute descriptions littered throughout, it is far from being insightful in its use of language. You can tell that Williams is funny in real life, but it doesn’t quite translate into her writing, especially given that humour is generally difficult to convey successfully through prose.

Yeah, I know, maybe I’m asking too much of a 240-page YA novel. But this book really blurs the lines between teenager and adult, and as a result, I think Williams could have delved deeper instead of just skimming the surfaces of unrequited love or affixing a boy-meets-girl scenario for the sake of flagging something cute.

Williams has aimed this novel at a teenaged audience, but I get the impression she held back. You only get a glimpse into Williams as a genuinely funny and insightful writer. I think teenagers will want more.

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