How to Be Somebody Else by Miranda Pountney - review by George Cochrane

George Cochrane

Night & Day

How to Be Somebody Else


Jonathan Cape 278pp £16.99

You can become somebody else quite easily if you don’t agonise over it. At the start of Miranda Pountney’s debut novel, Dylan is a 37-year-old Brit leading a high-flying life as an advertising executive in New York. Twenty pages later and ‘with no real forethought’, she’s chucked in the job, given up her apartment and become a house-sitter in order to pursue her writing. But has she become somebody she likes?

She hasn’t told her long-distance boyfriend what she’s done, or her family and friends. And when she strikes up an affair with the married jazz pianist in the apartment below, the layers of deceit accumulate. But Pountney doesn’t judge her protagonist. To marry, have children, hold down a job, be a feminist role model: the expectations on women in their thirties, as presented, would be enough to send anyone running. And the sex with Gabe, the pianist, is the best Dylan’s ever had. The problem is Gabe himself. Entitled and controlling, he robs Dylan of her newly won freedom and distracts her from what she won them for: to be a writer. Now she has no idea who she is.

Abrupt transitions between scenes and a fragmentary prose style keep readers in a similar state of disorientation. But we are never totally lost. Where literal sense breaks down, a kind of linguistic sense takes over, and Pountney’s running gags (about celebrities as fish – ‘Goldie Prawn’), telling use of repeated

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