Book Shelf: The Gradual Demise of Phillipa Finch (Part Two!)

Book Shelf: The Gradual Demise of Phillipa Finch

Sometime between girlhood and womanhood, stuff can go wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. The kind of wrong that completely throws you off centre and ruins all your dreams of getting a life-size My Little Pony, flying to the moon (on a unicorn), living in a tree house like the Swiss Family Robinson (just me?) and having a prince magically sweep you off your feet (Kate Middleton, notwithstanding). 

It's called reality. And it sucks. In fact, it sucks so much that you can die from it; if not physiologically, then most definitely emotionally (there is currently no national record for emotional deaths). Phillipa Finch has suffered an emotional death. She cannot go on pretending everything is fabulous. And, what's worse, she can't find a good coffee to console herself anywhere.

Her inner turmoil manifests itself in many ways: the purchasing of new pets; becoming "thin with disappointment"; excessive exercise; hyper attention to personal hygiene; 40,000 tarot readings and other acts of divination; hiding in music; a newfound compulsion to knit; frenzied cleaning, dusting and polishing; the buying of new boots; the acquisition of numerous platonic male friends; a "sudden deep desire to jump off tall buildings"; "consuming vast quantities of fennel twig tea, miso soup and Tibetan gojoi berries"; stablising activities such as "working at a local bookstore, organic food shopping or a walk around the harbour"; collecting cups; and spontaneous hair cutting.

Despairing in a "Grand Canyon of disappointment", wearing her uniform of blue cardigan and monastic brown skirt, the narrator charts Phillipa's gradual decline into a state of numbness via her Emotional History Tree, on which lie five men: Mr Lonely Planet ("Stephen Hawking disguised as Frodo Baggins"); Uber-Alpha Male/The Dark Lord ("enormous aura"); Journey Man ("emotional Chernobyl"); Skater Boy (with the same girl for 4000 years) and Piano Man (gentle soul; ex-lover of a best friend).

As we embark on this melancholic adventure into relationship's past, with its mountainous highs and treacherous lows – with a stop off at Kakadu National Park for a cup of tea – Phillipa's acerbic social commentary and insightful monologue ("emotional ambiguity is the poetic path to an ulcer") make for serious giggling.

She ditches her therapist in favour of becoming "a warrior in her own private Fight Club", buys skinny jeans to fit in with the "art crowd twits" and finds herself coversing with Gen-Y emo chicks saying "like, you know, like, totally...".

Feeling like "Anne of Green Gables making a guest appearance in a Beyonce film clip", all her coping mechanisms exhausted, her cupboards chockers with tea cups, she resolves to deal with all the terrible feelings she's been stuffing away from view and sends out a signal for HELP. It comes. And she's able to cartwheel into her emotional future.

As with Emma Magenta's past grown-up picture books (The Peril of Magnificent Love, A Gorgeous Sense of Hope, The Origin of Lament), The Gradual Demise of Phillipa Finch is bound to become a comfort to be shared amongst despairing girlfriends navigating their way through uncertain emotional terrain; those fragile girls with high hopes of living in tree-tops who get wounded along the way.

The Gradual Demise of Phillipa Finch by Emma Magenta, based on the ABC TV series of the same name narrated by Toni Collette, is published by HarperCollins for ABC Books (I recommend reading it to the tune of The Scrip's "Breakeven (Falling to Pieces)" for added effect. The DVD is out now. Stay tuned for an interview with Emma.

See also: The Gradual Demise of Phillipa Finch (Part One)

Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

Couldn't see myself interested in illustrated books like this but Erica, you just got me very interested! Thanks for introducing me to this author/illustrator.