Shelf Life by Livia Franchini Doubleday August 29th 2019
Ruth is thirty years old.
She works as a nurse in a care home and her fiancé has just broken up with her.
The only thing she has left of him is their shopping list for the upcoming week.
And so she uses that list to tell her story.
Starting with six eggs, and working through spaghetti and strawberries, and apples and tea bags,
Ruth discovers that her identity has been crafted from the people she serves;
her patients, her friends, and, most of all, her partner of ten years.
Without him, she needs to find out – with conditioner and single cream and a lot of sugar –
who she is when she stands alone.
So who was Ruth? I don’t think Ruth really knew who she was and it was interesting to see how Franchini would help Ruth and indeed ourselves find out.
Ruth was obviously upset at the break up of her ten year relationship, but it gave her questions she needed to answer, predominately how do you find out who you are as an individual after sharing your life for so long.
You got the feeling that she did everything that Neil her ex wanted to do, as she pampered to his every wimp and each need. It made you wonder if this was the reason Neil left, did he want her to be someone else or had she outlived her usefulness or shelf life.
Franchini gave us glimpses into his own mind interspersing chapters with his own thoughts which certainly didn’t make you like or respect him.
Ruth, for me, was complex, lacked confidence, self worth, never knew where she fitted in. We didn’t get to hear much about her family life but you guessed that it wasn’t necessarily good, no positive role model to guide her in life. I liked the way Franchini flipped between her past and present, the acquaintances that reappeared that she had to reevaluate, to see if their friendship was real or fake.
Her role in a nursing home seemed to be the only place where she felt comfortable, safe within the confines of rules and procedures.
Franchini’s structure was interesting, her use of chat room narrative, of emails broke up the narrative, gave the novel a more personal feel. The shopping list headings were unusual and unique, and set the novel apart from the usual stories of individuals finding out who they were.
Ruth’s journey of self discovery was at times quite torturess to read and your heart went out to her, her actions, her thoughts those of a lost woman. I found the latter parts quite ambiguous, a lot of reading between the lines and assumptions as Ruth’s friends reflected on their own thoughts of her leaving me with more questions than answers.
It was an unusual novel which made it that much more interesting and fascinating and hard to belief this was a debut.
I would like to thank Doubleday for a copy of Shelf Life to read and review and to Anne Cater Of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Livia Franchini is a writer and translator from Tuscany, Italy, whose work has been published in numerous publications and anthologies. She has translated Michael Donaghy, Sam Riviere and James Tiptree Jr. among many others. In 2018, she was one of the inaugural writers-in-residence for the Connecting Emerging Literary Artist project, funded by Creative Europe. She lives in London, where she is completing a PhD in
experimental women’s writing at Goldsmiths.