The Time Is Now, Monica Sparrow

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Transit Lounge Publishing, 2019 - Australian fiction - 288 pages

Castadrift by loss, Monica Sparrow is marooned in her semi in Neasden, theso-called 'loneliest village in London', her home stuffed with nothing sheneeds. Is it time for her to finally get her house in order? Can she isolatewhat really matters, and clear the junk? And while it's too late for her familyto be as they were, can Monica fashion an entirely new one, from theunlikeliest set of contenders?

Monica'ssister, Diane, already a right piece of work and looking to take it up a notch,seems lost to Monica forever. But a few unexpected diversions see her careeringin a most unanticipated direction. Xavier, a master of minimalism, discardspeople as easily as any other clutter. An editor at a prestigious publishinghouse, he's lumbered with Monica -- a wannabe writer spectacularly differentfrom any he's previously encountered.

Havinglived virtually family-free into adulthood, Jamie suddenly acquires Monica andDiane as elder sisters, and a job, a proper one. Used to living on the marginsand unfamiliar with group dynamics, this proverbial black sheep might justbecome the most improbable anchor.

Fourisolated people. Thrown together by family and circumstance. A humorous and heartwarming story of second chances and new beginnings.

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“Very occasionally one came across people like Jamie, Xavier thought. He envisaged them as having an asterisk by their name, denoting something peculiar to them alone. They were always different, never standard issue. Xavier quite liked other asterisk people.”
The Time Is Now, Monica Sparrow is the fourth novel by Australian author, Matt Howard. Jamie has recently acquired two sisters, one of whom is less than welcoming. That might be because his new step-father left their mother to marry his. A tragic loss has resulted in these rather bizarre family dynamics.
Monica Sparrow is a published author (e-books) who seems determined to take Jamie under her wing. Her sister Diane is married to the head of sales at Wyatt Dean Publishing, and she insults Jamie at every opportunity (although he’s definitely not the only recipient of her bile).
Wyatt Dean has decided to publish Monica’s next novel, and has assigned Xavier Swift as her editor. Somewhat to her consternation, Xavier has already taken his figurative scissors to Monica’s moderately successful e-books, eliminating the unnecessary in preparation for printing, but when they meet, she can’t help liking him. Xavier’s editing philosophy extends into his life, and as a minimalist, he’s in for a shock when he first enters Monica’s home: a house stuffed to overflowing with things she doesn’t need.
Howard’s plot is easily believable but far from predictable, with quite a few twists and surprises. Red herrings mean that the astute reader will likely be distracted from suspicions that may have formed about a certain character from tiny hints and clues.
Reading in the quiet carriage of public transport is perhaps not recommended as there’s lots of laugh-out-loud humour in the dialogue (some of it quite black); there are also some lump-in-the-throat moments. There’s a delicious irony in that Xavier is good at culling possessions and written words, but Jamie pulls him up for being too verbose.
Howard’s main characters are more than one-dimensional and develop with the story. Each character has been somewhat damaged by events in their lives, and most try hard to be good to each other. It’s sweetly amusing to watch them exhibit a (sometimes crossed-purpose) sensitivity towards each other’s needs.
Monica and Xavier are at opposite extremes on the scale of acquiring worldly possessions, with entirely different things bringing them joy. Anyone with a tendency to accumulate will be able to identify with Monica’s rationales, while Xavier’s actions will resonate the minimalists, the ruthless discarders.
Diane and Jamie occupy opposite ends of any scales that measure assertiveness or arrogance or nastiness. Diane is superior and often critical: Monica notes “Her sister’s preferred tongue, sarcasm. Diane was fluent” although later in the tale, Howard gives her wise words “People are never as good as they could be, nor as bad as you think they are.”
Jamie is unassuming and kind but also quick-witted: “He wasn’t particularly bright… but he could certainly sparkle” is Mother’s assessment. Of her care for Jamie, Monica tells Xavier: “Who will truly see someone like him, realise what he has to offer, how he can grow on you if you take the time, in this world where only the loudest, the best at squawking, get noticed” and of Jamie’s selflessness: “In that moment, she wished he were truly her brother, that what ran in him ran in her as well.” It may be Monica Sparrow in the title, but Jamie might just be the star.
Howard undeniably has a way with words and his descriptive prose is marvellous: “Xavier wondered why these three, his superiors, found it necessary to cajole and entice him in this way, as if they were game-park workers trapping a rhino that had just been delivered a dart” and “Mother… went into a type of hypnotic state, as if her tired brain was hauling something heavy into the front room of her mind” are examples.
Howard’s own experience in the publishing industry is

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About the author (2019)

Matt Howard has lived in Sydney, London, Melbourne, and Reykjavik. He has written four novels, each set in a different city. The Time is Now, Monica Sparrow is the London one. His earlier novels are Street Furniture (Wakefield Press), Taking Off (Allen & Unwin) and Ethan Grout (Pier 9).

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