Franchini is a poet and a translator, and this can be seen in the attention she pays to the flavour, shape and weight of words. For every moment that I wondered how the plot would be resolved, there were several in which I paused, unwilling to move on from an arresting turn of phrase. Some of these are brief and descriptive: clean laundry “pushes its face against the glass of the washing machine”; Ruth and Neil sleep “pressed against one another like flowers in a book”. Elsewhere the lyricism expands on more abstract ideas: “History happened in the back rooms while we delayed our knitting: making and unmaking, the stuff of witches.”
Narrated by a 30-year-old nurse, Ruth, this intriguing debut ends up weirder and more structurally adventurous than its chattily plain-spoken opening leads us to expect.
It kicks off amid her gloom following a break-up with Neil, her accountant boyfriend of ten years, who turns cold when she rejects his proposal of an open relationship.
hen Neil, Ruth Beadle’s boyfriend of 10 years, leaves her, all she has left is their shopping list... By the end of book, she has made a new shopping list – of things she only buys for herself, which are the titles of her own chapters. But if that sounds like a quirky recipe for an empowering tale, it isn’t quite. Franchini is not, thankfully, that neat or obvious and Ruth remains a singular creation, but one hard to totally root for... Franchini leans heavily on recounted dreams to give access to Ruth’s strange, churning subconscious. They’re vividly written, but did you ever really want to hear anyone’s dreams? Nevertheless, there’s a confidence to the wilful eccentricities of her writing that reminded me of Miranda July, as well as a fresh voice that’s highly readable, even if not all of the characters in Shelf Life quite stack up.