In March this year, the National Year of Reading’s theme was “laugh”. Two Australian authors whose names kept cropping up in my Twitter feed were Paddy O’Reilly and Toni Jordan. Initially I thought I wouldn’t get to read any books by Jordan until next year – my recent releases “to be read” pile is so high it’s tottering. But sometimes I buck my own system.
On the weekend, I went down to the library to find some “light reading” to give myself a break – and found Fall Girl, published back in 2010. What a gem!
Fall Girl is a mixture of romantic comedy, mystery, chick lit and fable, with an underlying Cinderella-cum-Robin Hood motif. The Cinders-Robin character is “Ella” – although that’s only one of the aliases she uses. Ella is an honourable young woman, in her own way, almost an innocent abroad, despite her years’ experience as a “grifter”. She, along with her circus-retinue-like family, have put the “artist” into “con artist”, as Jordan writes, and made a vocation out of duping people.
Within the parameters of her profession, Ella is as dedicated as any careerist, and it is her dedication to her work – rather than its criminality – which provides one of the chief obstacles to her growing attraction to her “mark”, millionaire philanthropist Daniel Metcalf. But Metcalf, too, is not what he seems. The ensuing romp involves Ella posing as a field biologist and conducting a spurious hunt for the fabled Tasmanian Tiger in the wilds of Wilson’s Promontory, and it’s as madcap and funny as anything I’ve read in ages.
In her Acknowledgements, Jordan writes that Fall Girl was inspired by the work of the late Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist. The research Ella regurgitates while playing her part makes me think this novel could make an excellent text for high school students; but the science is never laboured and the book certainly doesn’t take this, or any other theme, too seriously. For me, Fall Girl had enough wit, charm and whimsy that made it a quick, delightful read. While the characterisations border on caricature and the plot is farcical, the dialogue is witty and laugh-out-loud in places. Underlying the plot is a cleverly serious point about gambling, greed and gullibility, but the satire is gentle, not cutting; the people depicted as foolish, rather than malicious.
Text Publishing, 2010
Borrowed from Avalon Community Library