book review: Careering by Daisy Buchanan
Overview: Imogen has spent her entire twenties trying to break into the magazine publishing world in London. Without a family to support her through the constant unpaid internships, she works nights at a factory and a bar. She's burning out on the glossy world she insistents on being a part of, but packing up to go home isn't much of an option either. As her career finally starts to come together as she's tapped to be a staff writer at a new publication, her friendships are falling apart and her life remains as precarious as ever. Chasing your dreams, and even achieving them, isn't all it's made out to be. Overall: 3.5
Characters: 3.5 The characters are what makes this book worth reading. Imogen forms a bit of a work family within the new magazine she makes it to, and while the individual people aren't particularly fleshed out, their bonds with each other do feel genuine and sweet. It's the found family against the odds bond that is my favorite part of the entire story.
Imogen is lost. She has a strained relationship with her family, a bad relationship with her roommates, an older guy she hooks up with that's the worst, and a best friend from home that's so deeply jealous of her that she's intent to bring her down. Even as she finally gets a grip in the magazine world, she struggles to feel satisfied since her burnout is too deep. What's a bit unsatisfying is that Imogen achieves major highs in her career and comes out a winner by the end of the story, but she hasn't really changed at all or seemed to learn anything as a person. Despite all of these things that happen and having a lot of room to evolve, Imogen is relatively stagnant.
The other POV character is Harri, Imogen's boss that's worked at the media company for her whole career. She's passed over for a promotion, sent to helm a new title with Imogen working under her as a writer. Harri is still grappling with grief after losing her husband, a plot point that's awkwardly sandwiched in, and the career setback is just another blow. Harri does show some growth as working with her young new crew and building up a title while fighting upper management does make her understand that she's not as beholden to the corporate ladder she's always been single-mindedly focused on.
Plot: 3 The biggest issue with Careering is that it tries to do too much in every single way. You could probably guess that by seeing that this contemporary novel comes in at 384 pages. That's almost always a red flag for over-writing. It feels like there's at least 3 books jammed into one, and the problem with that is that none of the books are fully given their room to flourish. Everything becomes surface and skimmed over and underdeveloped, and because of that, the plot tangents and extra sandwiched scenes become times you want to fast forward through. The overall plot about the magazine, building the new title, its ups and downs, and the work family are the best parts. The issue is that the book tries to get too personal without having the time and space. There's threads about Imogen's troubles with her parents and toxic best friend that are both good thoughts but are just underdeveloped and awkwardly shoved in the work dynamic. If the scene wasn't in the office, I found myself getting bored.
Writing: 3 This really did not need to be a dual point of view story. I recently reviewed The New Me, which had this exact format. There was a first person account from a young woman trying to find her place in the working world and then alternate third person chapters from the boss. But in The New Me, it's about this peculiar, highly developed, unreliable-narrator style character, and the alternate perspective gives the reader this upper hand where they understand what's happening in the "real world."
There's none of that dynamic here. Imogen is pretty bland and straightforward. We don't need a window beyond her own to understand what's going on. Harri's perspective doesn't raise the stakes or add tension and simply further complicates the plot and squeezes out space. I feel like Imogen's character and the holistic life story Buchanan was trying to tell would've been possible if she'd cut Harri's POV chapters and reclaimed the space. Also, just on the reader experience level, I struggle with reading in 1st person and then suddenly 3rd and moving back and forth without a clearly justified reason.
Overall, there are highly enjoyable sections of the book where there's tension that's keeping the pages turning and quick chapters and good pacing. The world of being writers at magazines is always going to be interesting, and when the book really mines into that, it soars. I just wish there had been more effort put into figuring out what was truly integral to the book and then stripped away the rest.
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