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Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French
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Oh Dear Silvia (edition 2012)

by Dawn French

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126795,586 (3.24)11
Member:shelleyraec
Title:Oh Dear Silvia
Authors:Dawn French
Info:Michael Joseph Ltd (2012), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
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Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Trawling the library shelves for my first audiobook, I really wasn’t sure what to pick. An author I had read and trusted? Someone completely new? A familiar genre? Something completely different? Then I hit upon Dawn French’s Oh Dear Silvia. I liked Dear Fatty and A Tiny Bit Marvellous, plus I always enjoy watching The Vicar of Dibley even if I’ve seen the episode on twenty times, so I decided on this. I can’t remember why I never got around to buying Oh Dear Silvia when it came out, but that’s inconsequential now. Plus, the audiobook advertised itself as being a full cast recording with Dawn French herself. I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded very impressive. So armed with 9 CDs, I listened to this book over two weeks, which contained one huge traffic jam and somewhere to go nearly everyday day.

It turned out that ‘full cast recording’ means that there is a number of readers/actors (I’m not certain of the terminology) in the book. Dawn is the narrator and it was lovely to listen to her voice as I’m already quite familiar with it. The book is divided up into chapters and different actors play the characters in the book. As the book centres on Silvia, who is in ‘Coma Suite Number 5’ (read: ICU Bed 5, suite sounds very posh) after a nasty fall, each chapter is a character interacting with Silvia. All the characters had different voices and accents, which made distinguishing between them simple. There’s Winnie, Silvia’s nurse (and an excellent one) who is from Jamaica and fusses around Silvia as though she could hear her. There’s husband Ed, who reminded me of Hugh in The Vicar of Dibley – he was a little mumbly at times, but the epitome of the bumbling Englishman. Sister Jo is full of good wishes for her sister, but comes across as off centre and annoying (animal therapy in an ICU?) There’s best friend Cat, who talks in a rapid, no nonsense voice – yet reveals more and more truths as the book unfolds. Tia, Silvia’s housekeeper from Indonesia, regularly visits with gifts for Silvia and tales of Silvia’s things she’s sold on eBay to ‘even’ the workload. (Plus, Tia’s accent makes ‘Mrs Chute’ sound rather, um, different). Finally, there are children Cassie who hasn’t had a relationship with Silvia since she became pregnant with Willow as a teenager and her son (whose name I can’t remember), who left to become a soldier and doesn’t care what happens to his mum. All the characters were played very well with elements of humour. There are some stereotypes involved, but I chose to look past them in this character driven book. It’s all the differences in the characters that made me more intrigued on how they would interact while focused on one thing – Silvia.

As an audiobook, I think Oh Dear Silvia was excellent. The plot was fast enough to stop me drifting away and the changing characters in each chapter kept things fresh. There were several ‘OMG’ moments revealed casually by a character talking to Silvia, which made the reasons for her being in a coma all the more intriguing. I also found that my opinion changed of Silvia from sympathy, to disgust and then…well, that would spoil the ending. The audiobook also had some nice touches – the sound of the respirator in Silvia’s room and Winnie singing.

I found the ending quite emotive, even though I guessed what was going to happen. I think it had more impact for me being spoken rather than reading it on the page. The book also taught me not to judge immediately on first experiences, as all the characters revealed themselves to be different in the end from their introduction. It shows there can be a lot more simmering under the surface of a family than what others see. I felt Dawn French revealed this in a way that was both humorous and respectful. I think, by listening to this book rather than reading it, I got more out of it. Listening to the characters in an almost theatre-like fashion brought them to life.

Thanks Dawn. You’ve definitely switched me off the radio and onto audiobooks.

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
  birdsam0610 | Nov 8, 2014 |
Oh my.
I've read Dawn French's first book, "A Tiny Bit Marvellous", which made me howl out loud throughout and which was seriously funny and a tiny bit shocking.
So when I picked up "Oh Dear Silvia", I expected more of the same - something light and humorous, something to make me laugh and forget.
Instead what I got was the tale of a complex woman, one misunderstood by almost everyone in her life, told through the visitors to her hospital room, where she lies in a coma.
French masterfully takes us through Sylvia's life. We change our view of her and the people around her as the book progresses, and by the end, we wish all could have been explained, made right.
I wished for a little less use of dialect in the nurse looking after Silvia, though I have to admit the housekeepers malapropisms (due to her sons teaching her the wrong words in English) were hilarious. A little dialect goes a long way, and in some parts it's too heavy for reading pleasure.
But I forgave all as this story winds to the end. If any of you have been with a seriously ill relative, sat by their bedside, tried to reach them, you will find this book calls to your heart.
Highly recommended. A thoughtful read and one I wished could have gone on longer. Thank you, Ms. French. If any of you have been with a seriously ill relative, sat by their bedside, tried to reach them, you will find this book calls toyour heart. ( )
  Dabble58 | Jan 1, 2014 |
I saw Oh Dear Silvia: A Novel, by the amazing Dawn French and knew that I had to read it. I love Dawn French, and have since the first time I set eyes on her in the hilarious series Vicar of Dibley. From that time on, I watched her in every thing I could find. I read and enjoyed Dear Fatty. So of course I knew I had to read this. First of all, I looked at nothing but the author. I did not look at the book description or any reviews. I just took it for granted that I would be amused and find Oh Dear Silvia enjoyable.

Sadly, this was not the case. I was more and more saddened as I read. A woman of sixty, friends and family gathered round her as she lay in a coma. How she came to be that way was unclear. What was sadly clear is that each of those who visited, seemed to be there more for themselves than for her. Guilt, anger and commitment to doing what was expected seemed to be the order of the day. The only one who lightened the tone of the book, and who seemed to care about poor Sylvia was the nurse, Winnie. Jo was fluttery and guilty and possibly somewhat relieved to be outliving her sister. Ed, the ex was just angry and unappealing, in my opinion. And the daughter? That might be what horrified me the most. A repulsive thing for the most part. The only thing that I could find compelling at all was that it felt like the truth. That at the end of the day, most people are just worried about themselves. We do die alone, no matter how we try to reject that as a possibility. The fact that Sylvia herself was a less than loving parent, sister and friend only made it worse.

I am not glad I read it, but as I said, it is perhaps my own fault for not investigating further before requesting this book from Vine. Never assume. ( )
2 vote mckait | Aug 20, 2013 |
It felt very odd to read a novel in which the main character never actually moves or speaks in real time. All of the action happens around Silvia, all of the other characters speak at instead of to her – and the reader is left to realize that these people can only seem to come to grips with their relationships to Silvia when she is not actively participating.

Because of the lack of participation by the main subject of this book, I found it a bit flat. There is no real energy to it – other than the suspense as to when or if Silvia will wake up.

What the reader is allowed to know about Silvia comes from her ex-husband, her children, her friend, her sister and a couple of others. (Except that a few times, we are allowed into Silvia’s actual thoughts and emotions in weird segues from the other characters – a move that didn’t work for me.)

Despite that, there were some beautifully expressed reflections by the people whose lives have intersected with Silvia.

Her ex-husband Ed: “There’s something about trees that’s too much bigger and older than all of us. We’ve all felt it one time or another. We have an instinctive reluctance to feeling so small and insignificant, so pathetically young. We all want to count, don’t we?”

And: “Y’know, the God I don’t believe in? That one, who definitely isn’t there at all the important frightening moments in my life, but whom I still choose to address. Him? The same one I raise a little prayer to each night for you at the moment, Silvia. I give it a go, why not?”

And even though I didn’t understand how we were suddenly in Silvia’s thoughts while actually in her friend Cat’s memories – this was an excellent description about the great changes in live and how they can unspool almost without us realizing it.

“Silvia could sometimes barely believe she had surrendered so entirely, but in actual fact, like most of the ugly awkward stuff of life, it had happened in spurts of drama interspersed with great swathes of ordinary, harmful, flowing time which incrementally caused the great unjoinings, until now, when Silvia realized just how unconnected she is.”

And how our life, any life, never stands alone.

“Silvia. Her life force is fading, but right now, she is still alive, and where she lives, she is the pivot for them all. She is why they are circling around, collecting together to share however it is going to be. She has drawn them in.”

I was disappointed by “Oh Dear Silvia” but still walk away with a few images that will stick with me. ( )
  karieh | Jul 3, 2013 |
I love Dawn French and this book is not what I expected. It's way more literary, well-written, interesting, well-constructed, mysterious, evolving and involving... Not exactly funny, but certain broad-brush (and finely detailed) characterizations are executed with a light, deft hand. The Silvia of the title is in a coma in hospital, hence her voice and POV is not heard; first person narration of her friends, family, and care-takers as they visit her, chapter by chapter, provides exposition (some in very funny dialect). Enjoyable & worth it. {Pre-publication review copy via Nook download} ( )
  ReneeGKC | May 11, 2013 |
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Who is in Coma Suite Number 5? A matchless lover? A supreme egotist? A selfless martyr? A bad mother? A cherished sister? A selfish wife? All of these. For this is Silvia Shute, who has always done exactly what she wants, until now, when her life suddenly, shockingly stops. Her past holds a terrible secret, and now that she is unconscious in a hospital bed, her constant stream of visitors are set to uncover the mystery of her broken life. Meanwhile she must lie there, victim of the beloveds, the borings, the babblings and the plain bonkers. Like it or not, the truth is about to pay Silvia a visit. Again, and again and again...… (more)

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