From his beginnings as a second-hand bookshop owner to an author, interviewer and Director of Books at Booktopia, John Purcell is an embodiment of the Australian publishing industry. Although The Girl on the Page is the first novel attributed to Purcell, he has had previous success through a series of novels written under a pseudonym.
In 2017, Purcell was nominated for Australian Bookseller of the Year.
The Girl on the Page is a few big stories packed into 350-odd pages. Purcell has crafted a novel with a heart that beats for the publishing industry.
Amy Winston is a talented young editor who made her way onto the publishing scene through unusual means. After struggling to acquire an internship that didn't require free work (i.e. exploitation) Amy picked up a half-read copy of Torch, a lacklustre thriller by Liam Smith.
In either a stroke of genius or incredible ego, Amy rewrites Torch and sends it Liam. He's impressed. Following her newfound success as co-writer (uncredited) of the new Jack Cade thrillers, Amy is catapulted into a career as an editor for M&R Publishing.
We join Amy years later. She is still a force to be reckoned with - beautiful, talented, and impetuous.
M&R Publishing has undergone some changes, and Amy has been given the job of wrestling a promised novel from beloved literary author Helen Owen. Far from her usual task of editing mainstream novels, Amy enters Helen and Malcolm Taylor's life in a whirlwind.
The novel that Helen has promised M&R has become an unwanted beast in her's and Malcolm's new home - paid for by a hefty advance - that is slowly poisoning the authors' once envious relationship.
"Success like this, obscene success, is always a sign of some kind of failure. I could name twenty writers whose most popular book was their last successful artistically. A Hundred Ways must be pretty terrible to be so loved."
JOHN PURCELL, The Girl on the Page
The Girl on the Page is a story with it all: sex, love, loss, secrets, proposals, politics, unlikeable characters, loveable characters, tragedy, and triumph. While the main themes revolve around love, loss, and grief, the primary question is a little unorthodox.
"What is literature?"
It's a question asked - and answered - by many throughout the novel. Can anybody say for sure?
The novel also asks smaller questions on writing, the writing process, and relationships in the publishing industry.
The Girl on the Page strikingly flips between the deep-seated questions on literature, values, and morality to fast and furious sex scenes.
Purcell seems to be egging the reader on, crafting what appears to be a literary novel and interjecting it with what would be cast aside by discerning readers as "trashy soft porn".
I wouldn't be surprised if an unassuming reader perused the first few pages in a shop only to put this novel back, not realising what they will be missing out on. Perhaps that's the point.
Many of us readers are too quick to put a book down when it might just have something pretty important to say.
Every element of this novel has been crafted with both love and appreciation for books. The characters are all beautifully individual, with Amy being the most divisive. Is she a true-to-life modern day woman, one who is successful, confident, and unapologetic? Or is she just another male author's fantasy? I'm still not sure.
Although Amy is the character of focus, each and every character is compellingly crafted. From Amy's bookish-snob ex-boyfriend Max, warm and gentle Helen, admiring Malcolm, tough-guy Liam, wannabe-writer Josh, to the M&R staff and a myriad of other cast members. Each one is an individual that stands in their own right, a task which many authors (even exceedingly experienced ones) often have trouble with. Together, they create the large and varied world of publishing.
The Girl on the Page is undoubtedly a love letter to the publishing industry, but it's not exclusive.
The Girl on the Page is also a love letter to readers, no matter their favourite genre. There's no requirement to be an industry insider to enjoy this novel. In fact, non-industry readers will learn a lot about the frequently upturned world of publishing. Hopefully, both those familiar with the publishing world and hungry readers will walk away with a new sense of appreciation for all that goes into creating a book and the toll it takes on each author.
If you can only read one book about books... make it this one.
Why Read This Book?
- Varied and well-explored themes
- Strong characters
- Interesting female characters
- Female main character
- Insight into the publishing industry