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Book Review: Bellas Run by Margareta Osborn

bellas run margareta osborn Book Review: Bellas Run by Margareta Osborn

If chick lit can be characterised in part by a city setting and a protagonist with a high-flying job in media and communications, then it looks as though there are changes underfoot. Of late has emerged a new subgenre, titled descriptively enough, rural lit. The key themes remain: friendship, love, self-reflection and growth, but the settings and trappings are vastly different.

Margareta Osborn cheekily contrasts the urban chick lit with its rural counterpart in her debut Bellas Run, which takes place in equal parts in rural Queensland, Victorias Gippsland region, and Melbourne (which admittedly doesnt quite have the cosmopolitan appeal of London and New York, but, hey, were a small country), and examines the pulls and draws of each for protagonist Bella OHara.

As titles go, Bellas Run is a multi-faceted one, ostensibly referring to Bellas habit of running from her woes, as well as to her run of luck and experience, and to the run that comprises the land she looks after. And all of these elements are present throughout the book. The book opens with a young Bella and her best friend Patty (who has the classy moniker of Pat Me Tuffet) getting up to mischief on a homestead in Queensland during a gap year of sorts. Bella and Patty are running from the adult responsibilities of their jobs back home, and run they do, spending their days in various degrees of inebriation and exercising less than careful judgement in their evening activities. For both girls, its a time of blissful fun and enjoyment: they play pranks, dance by the side of the road, and dont hesitate to get into scraps. Its also a time of first love: Bella falls for Pattys brother Will.

The close friendship between the two girls is quite remarkable, and Osborn does a superb job of bringing it to life on the page. Of course, this only makes what follows even more devastating. A road accident changes everything for Bella, and shes forced to face the world alone, without the support of the person who has until now been a second part of her. Bella copes by retreating from the countryside and returning to the city, where she makes herself over into an urbanite who wears a good deal of black and spends much of her time being the eye-candy on the arm of a stockbroker. But certain forces conspire to bring Bella back home to Gippsland, where she finds herself reassessing her identity and outlook, and cant help but notice Will all over again.

Bellas Run'has a number of things going for it, with Osbornes evident love of country life and the verve she injects into her rural characters giving the book a liveliness that really does charm. Osborn also carefully weaves in small facets of rural living (ah, roast beef and tomato sandwiches) and farming life in a way thats intriguing without being overpoweringa good deal of romanticisation helps here, and Osborn happily does so.

However, these strengths are countered by an unevenness in Osborns approach. The characterisation is the stuff of extremes: the stockmen are all RM Williams boots, rum galore and gday mate! and oi, sheila!, while their city counterparts say old fellow and old chap, travel by helicopter and cant exist without Italian suits. I know this is a genre of exaggeration, but this all feels just a wee bit pained, particularly when the countryfolk are characterised as big-hearted and loving and the city-folk (or at least, the two men who are representative of Melbourne) are self-absorbed sexual deviants. Although, to be honest, I had plenty of issues enough with the country boys and their crassness and chauvinistic outlook

There are also plot issues that I think are compounded by the unusual timeline of the book: a good half of the book is devoted to Bellas early twenties, then we skip forward to eight years later, when Bella is a toffy city gal. I cant help but feel that the decision to tell the story in this way confuses the plot somewhat, and the story thats being told becomes a little lost beneath this timeline. Indeed, the car accident is first described in the prologue, so it seems bizarre to spend such a long time describing the series of events that lead up to this, and only then move on to what the story really seems to be about.

The narrative approach could also have been streamlined in other ways: there are certain plot points that could easily have been removed, such as the sleazy city guy who attacks Bella in her youth, then appears for no real reason later on in her life (is the point of this scene to somehow link her jerk of a fiance with an attempted rapist, and thus tar him similarly?). The whos-the-father pregnancy is another element that also felt extraneous, particularly when the trope of miscommunication (or lack of communication) is used to build suspense and turn characters against each other.

Finally, there are a surprising number of typographical errors in the book, and the copy I reviewed is as far as I know the final version. Theyre small issues, but they do distract the eye.

Bellas Run'is an enjoyable read overall, and Osborn in it does a beautiful job of rendering her love of rural living and of depicting close female relationships. I suspect for many people these factors alone will be enough to make it stand out, but I found that the flat minor characters, the over-the-top dialogue and the sometime clunky plotting detracted from my reading experience, particularly after the mid-book time skip.

Stay tuned for our forthcoming interview with Margareta Osborn!

Rating: star Book Review: Bellas Run by Margareta Osbornstar Book Review: Bellas Run by Margareta Osbornhalfstar Book Review: Bellas Run by Margareta Osbornblankstar Book Review: Bellas Run by Margareta Osbornblankstar Book Review: Bellas Run by Margareta Osborn (not bad)

With thanks to Random House Australia for the review copy

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  1. A shame you didnt enjoy it quite as much as i did Stephanie, i do take your point about the exaggeration of city vs country but I didnt mind the time skip though I dont like prologues in general and could have done without that.
    I am really liking this new rural lit genre, much more interesting and real than some chick in a designer suit swanning around an ad/PR agency!

  2. Stephanie /

    I think because I have family in both the country and the city Im a bit sensitive to the differences! I definitely think the prologue could have been cut, and think my issue with the timeskip had a lot to do with the promise of the prologueit seemed to occur in the wrong place in the book given what had been alluded to in the prologue.

    Im quite enjoying rural lit, too, and certainly wouldnt mind seeing more in this genre. :)

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