Title: The Shelf (review copy)
Author: Helly Acton
Genre: Contemporary Light Fiction
Blurb from Goodreads
Everyone in Amy’s life seems to be getting married (or so Instagram tells her), and she feels like she’s falling behind.
So, when her boyfriend surprises her with a dream holiday to a mystery destination, she thinks this is it — he’s going to finally pop the Big Question. But the dream turns into a nightmare when she finds herself on the set of a Big Brother-style reality television show, The Shelf.
Along with five other women, Amy is dumped live on TV and must compete in a series of humiliating and obnoxious tasks in the hope of being crowned ‘The Keeper’.
Will Amy’s time on the show make her realise there are worse things in life than being left on the shelf?
The premise of this one is what peaked my interest: six women hoodwinked by their partners find themselves newly single and signed up to a reality tv show (by their now exes!) in which they compete to become “The Keeper”.
The Shelf is an immensely readable book and one that does keep the interest throughout.
Initially I was in a blind rage as I read the early chapters. I couldn’t understand why any of these intelligent women would agree to stay on this TV show that in essence was about belittling them and turning them into doormats aka The Keeper whose aim in life was to be some sort of misogynistic male’s fantasy life partner…
So you can see why I was seething!
And yes okay, these women were given £10k just to take part with a chance to win one million pounds so that would make anyone think twice… so I told myself to chill, after all I did read the blurb and so knew that I would have to stomach some patriarchal nonsense and kept reading.
And I’m glad I did keep reading!
Because The Shelf did a wonderful job of being very intersectional with its feminism (on the female side of things); there was a nice diversity of background and viewpoints among the contestants. And happily there were many examples in the book of the six contestants rebelling against the misogynistic aims of the programme’s producers. Ultimately the book’s message was about becoming comfortable with being true to yourself and not beholden to any life partner i.e. that we don’t need a romantic partner to feel whole; yes it’s nice to find someone to love and to love you, but that sacrificing your identity and sense of self for another person is not what a loving relationship means.
I enjoyed reading about each of the main female characters and felt that every single one of them brought a unique storyline to the table. It’s very refreshing to read a book where women of all ages and backgrounds are celebrated to such a great degree. I particularly enjoyed the depiction of the character Flick. She could so easily have been used to down women who choose to be full time homemakers but instead Flick’s views were respected just as much as the career focused characters.
Where the book fell short for me was with the depiction of the male characters.
I don’t want to get on the “not all men” campaign because that drives me batty! The point is there are A LOT of men out there that are clinging to their fragile male egos and their toxic masculinity so it’s important that these types of patriarchal, sexist attitudes are called out, and this book certainly did that in spades!
However, I would have liked more nuance with the male characters.
Although it was okay to let the majority of the exes be scumbags because what sort of self respecting man would sign up his partner to be belittled on a television show. And I’m quite content that the TV guys also fitted the misogynistic stereotype.
But the book was desperately crying out for a more reasonable male character. The closest such character was Dr Hicks who provided counselling / therapy to the female contestants and seemed to care about their mental well-being more than TV ratings, but even he was too stereotyped and engaged in too much of the woman shaming aspects of the television show.
I’m also somewhat disappointed by the book’s ending. It was a little too cookie cutter for me and I thought it could have been a little more open ended. While I appreciated the aims of the epilogue which showed how The Shelf benefitted each of the women it was just too neat and tidy for this reader.
Overall, however, this was an entertaining read that I would recommend to fans of accessible light fiction that want a quick but satisfying read.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
This edition publishing 9th July 2020, Zaffre/Bonnier Books UK