WRITING

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

December 2000

At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss Melissa Bank's first novel as yet another addition to the chic flick genre: the sort of neatly packaged book that keeps you flicking the pages but is, ultimately, as substantial as sushi. But beneath its bright, poppy, lower case cover, The Girls' Guide is more than just a literary fashion victim. It's humorous and human, and although I doubt the cover's promise – 'a voice you'll remember for years to come' – it's a voice I enjoyed while it lasted.

The Girl's Guide paints a picture not of a specific time and place, but of a time in your life and a place in your head. It's a watercolour of a book, heavy on impression and light on laborious detail. Bank tells us only as much as we need to know, using words the way a good actor uses gesture: each sentence has to work hard enough to add more than itself to the scene. But she's not scared to have fun, and every page is peppered with piquant phrases that have you wishing you'd thought of them first.

The book moves swiftly through its 270-odd pages, with Jane going from pain in the ass younger sister to Bridget Jones as she negotiates the world of adult relationships. The story is passed from chapter to chapter like the baton in a relay race: suddenly, a new character has grasped the tale, and although you recognise it's all part of the same event, Bank's economic approach to explanation leaves you figuring out the connection on your own.

With her persistent failure to land a man, Jane eventually turns to one of those publications you find by the cash register in your local book store: How to Meet and Marry Mr. Right. Single women over thirty will recognise this little book, in any one of its guises. It was probably in their Christmas stocking. The advice it contains goes against her every instinct but she perseveres, to initially encouraging and ultimately disastrous consequences. She rebels just in time and the book's closing pages seem to prove that 'The Rules' are all wrong. To anyone who can't resist necking – or worse – on the first date, this ratification of our basic instincts comes as a huge relief. Until you open one of the latest glossies and find Catherine Zeta Jones telling readers how she hooked the world's most eligible man. By her own admission, she followed Faith and Bonnie's recommendations to the letter. No kissing on the first date, never call him and don't be available unless he books you at least four days in advance. The last I heard of Jane, she was still ink on a page. Catherine Zeta Jones, on the other hand, is now Mrs. Michael Douglas. Read The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing for fun. If you really want to know how to reel them in, it's Bienvenida Buck you need.