Shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2010, Zoe Venditozzi’s Anywhere’s Better Than Here lives up to the expectations created by such a nomination. The novel tells the story of Laurie, a woman who is fed up with her life, particularly her gaming-addicted boyfriend and her tedious job, and depicts the adventure she is caught up with as she attempts to escape her present life and find a new one.
The novel’s protagonist, Laurie, is easy to identify with; many will empathise as she becomes frustrated by the blocked aisles and tedious queues in the supermarket. At some point, most of us will have felt frustrated by how long a boring task such as food shopping takes and glanced down at our watch. Fed up with the frustrations of her mundane life, which seem to be summed up by this experience in the store, Laurie storms out of the shop desperate to find something more meaningful in her life. But she doesn’t always make things better. Anywhere’s Better Than Here invites us along with Laurie on this journey and what a journey it is! Be warned – you might, like me, find it impossible to put the book down.
The novel follows Laurie’s own internal monologue. Things start slowly, the novel showing Laurie’s irritated and restless state of mind as she comes home to find her boyfriend playing video games and barely communicating with her. The arrival of ‘a heavy set young man’, Gerry the ex-soldier, changes all of this. As a result of a past trauma, Gerry is perhaps the novel’s most complex character and some of Anywhere’s Better Than Here’s most interesting moments are those where Laurie realises she is out of her depth with Gerry. Nevertheless she embarks on a relationship with Gerry because she is bored of her life with boyfriend, Ed. There do not seem to be any real feelings between Laurie and Gerry, and their relationship is more a case of two unhappy people in need of something different to what they previously had coming together. To Laurie in her present state of mind, Ed is simply holding her back from potential happiness.
However, Ed is my favourite character even if he is little mentioned in most reviews of the novel. While Laurie is easy to relate to, Ed is more sympathetic; when Laurie is cross with him for ordering take-away food for her, despite the fact he ordered exactly what she wanted, both his confusion and Laurie’s frustration are easy to understand. What this couple appear unaware of that the reader can see is that whilst Ed is comfortable in the relationship, Laurie wants change. Ed’s obsession with video games and the avoidance of laundry leads readers to sympathize with Laurie’s irritation, but Ed’s bewilderment as to why his behaviour suddenly makes Laurie angry has the reverse effect.
Although some of Laurie’s actions in the novel are inexcusable, one cannot help also sympathising with her; she is a muddled up twenty-something who is looking for something more from life but doesn’t know specifically what. Running away from her problems may not be a solution that we would choose, but it is one that we have probably all imagined we could do so at some point.
Interesting plot, sad tone but with funny moments.Zoe Venditozzi’s debut novel takes the reader along on Laurie’s journey of self-discovery; whether as a troubled character she really learns anything is left open for readers to decide. Anywhere’s Better Than Here is definitely worth reading. If readings novels is a form of escapism in itself, this novel serves to remind us that in reality escaping our troubles can lead to bigger problems still…