Like many other novels I've read, Vanessa Crafts Out of Character concerns itself with the lumpy inheritances of family, and how children are inevitably at the mercy of their parents bequests. But Out of Character is another creature altogether: flashy rather than thoughtful, sensational rather than sensitive.
The lead character, Emma Gordon, is a relatively successful journalist who works for Oxygen, a trendy cultural opinion magazine in London, England. One day, she volunteers to take on the challenge of writing an inside story about what goes on in a West End gentlemans club, a euphemism for a strip club. Far too easily, Emma lands a job as a dancer at Platinum , and plunges into the hothouse world of stripping and lap dancing, high-end voyeurism and its concomitant exchanges.
Predictably, Emma takes to the challenge of becoming another woman, acting out of character. Predictably too, one night in the club, Emmas father, the handsome and incorrigibly rich Jack Gordon, happens to catch his daughter stripping. This leads to a profound exchange: What are you doing here? What are you doing here?
Although the novel tries valiantly to give itself literary credentials, with quotes from Jane Eyre, Macbeth, and The Glass Menagerie interleaving sections, it has not even a literary false eyelash. It is a trendy pot boiler with pretensions to global sophistication. The details of the amount of money that is thrown at the dancers (thousands of pounds), the fashionable rating of different areas of London, and the name-dropping of designer clothes and handbags, are doubtless accurate in terms of the consumerism index. But they combine to make for an utterly wearisome novel, which not even the suggestive breath of carnality can redeem.
The temptation to infuse a novel with high-speed versions of James Bond-style ambition and acquisitiveness is probably best resisted. Unless that genre is the desired form, which can be read in good fun, and forgiven for its hyperbole. This novel takes itself far more seriously than warranted. The reconciliation of the climax, which resolves the backstory of Emma and Jacks abandonment by Emmas mother, Imogene, is ultimately as contrived as its premise. Nevertheless, it too relegates Out of Character to the realm of family dysfunction, family angst, family acceptance, and rejection.
It seems that despite this brave new world of blended families, mixed families, and unconventional families, the novel itself persists in that age-old quest for resolution, the fantasy of happy families, mothers and fathers paired for life with children, their protected emissaries. How strange to read, in first novels, such old-fashioned longing. Aritha van Herk
(Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada
"A wonderfully wild read. Thrilling and touching, glamorous and gritty, you'll be seduced. Out of Character is a powerful, smart and sexy debut. This novel had me hooked from the start.." -- Rebecca Eckler
"Out of Character is a remarkable illustration of the power of alter egos to ultimately define our true identities. Vanessa Craft presents a sexy, fun and remarkably detailed peek at a world few of us visit, but about which all of us wonder. A fantastic debut from an insightful storyteller." -- Josh Kilmer Purcell, New York Times Bestselling author of I Am Not Myself These Days
"...Craft is a psychologically astute analyst of power politics... As good and as gritty as Out of Character (an inspired title of layered meaning) is in capturing exchanges between dancers and their Champagne Charlies, the rivalries between the big spenders, the dressing-room bitch sessions and cat fights, it's even better at dramatizing the process by which Emma is seduced by "Phoenix," the persona she creates, and is simultaneously liberated and corrupted by the games she plays with her identity." -- The Globe and Mail
"Craft gives Emma great depth and complexity through her mother's abandonment, father's narcissism and her own search for empowerment. That journey, interestingly, might not be the tidy, politically correct resolution you'd expect, which makes the book even more intriguing...Perfect summer reading, especially if there's a sequel." -- Calgary Herald
Emma Gordon in Vanessa Craft's Out of Character is also saddled with a father named Jack, but her dad is a horse's hindquarters of a more conventional configuration. Jack Gordon makes ridiculous sums of money as a manager of mergers and acquisitions for a firm in the City of London. According to his lights, his survival hinges on "men who talked a good game but had no opinions of their own and no clue what it meant to be a real power player." He succeeds by being 10 steps ahead and several ball sizes larger than the competition. And that means entertaining clients with "young totty" at what the English euphemistically call "top gentlemen's clubs." Jack sees his daughter as "a one-step-behind-the-rest-of-the-world kind of girl" who has no idea about men, no sense of style and too little ambition to succeed at anything he prizes. Abandoned by her mother and constantly demeaned by her father, Emma is a typical child of self-absorbed, narcissistic parents - overshadowed, underappreciated and incapable of self-protection - until her job with Oxygen, a magazine of culture, politics and style, assigns her to an undercover and undressed investigation of the working conditions of the women who work the poles, the private rooms and the wallets of one of Jack's clubs. The fallout from the inevitable daughter-father encounter in the club is more complexly rendered than seems apparent from the opening chick-lit chapters. Craft is not only a journalist who has aired her own g-strings in public to get her raw material, but also a psychologically astute analyst of power politics. As good and as gritty as Out of Character (an inspired title of layered meaning) is in capturing exchanges between dancers and their Champagne Charlies, the rivalries between the big spenders, the dressing-room bitch sessions and cat fights, it's even better at dramatizing the process by which Emma is seduced by "Phoenix," the persona she creates, and is simultaneously liberated and corrupted by the games she plays with her identity. -- The Globe and Mail
Vanessa Craft's debut novel, Out of Character, is an exciting look into the naughty world of British gentleman's clubs where pole-dancing is a currency as well as an art form. Examined through the eyes of the naive and unlikely heroine Emma, the story follows the young, uninspired writer as she goes undercover at the club, becoming drawn into its seductive world of money, power and greed. Think: Striptease with more meat. (Not more flesh, you scoundrel, more literary meat.) Craft gives Emma great depth and complexity through her mother's abandonment, father's narcissism and her own search for empowerment. That journey, interestingly, might not be the tidy, politically correct resolution you'd expect, which makes the book even more intriguing. . . .Perfect summer reading, especially if there's a sequel. -- Calgary Herald