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News > Alumnae > "Queen's Reads" - Okay Then That's Great by Susannah Wise

"Queen's Reads" - Okay Then That's Great by Susannah Wise

"Okay Then That's Great" by Susannah Wise: A chaotic, delightful novel with a unique world, hints of Nora Ephron, and a talented author's wacky imagination.
18 Oct 2023
Written by Julia Rank

Susannah Wise’s second novel Okay Then That’s Great is a novel that only an Old Queen could have written. Wise’s protagonist Marnie Rose, a poet with writer’s block and a perimenopausal mother-of-three, is having visions of her twin sister Perdita who died weeks before their eighteenth birthday and is also dreaming about having male genitalia. To work through this tangle, she’s having daily therapy sessions with an elderly Harley Street analyst right by her old school where she befriends a woman who thinks she’s Katherine Mansfield – she even quotes from Mansfield’s Queen’s-set story Carnation. I was thoroughly discombobulated (in a good way) and delighted to be taken along for the wild, tragicomic ride.

It’s unlikely that there’s a ‘correct’ way to read this novel, which would make it an excellent book club pick. Marnie is pure chaos, oversharing with the reader while pretending that everything is under control. Her partner, a shrink himself, isn’t any use. There are some lovely turns of phrase amidst the turmoil: “‘There she is.’ Mum lays a gentle palm on the rice cooker as if it were a virgin ship about to launch.”

Particularly enjoyable are Marnie’s eccentrically dressed, sometimes overbearing but loving parents, formerly atheist Jews who became born-again Christians following Perdita’s death (bohemian versions of the Bridget Jones parents came to mind), and who have encouraged Marnie’s nearly eighteen-year-old twin daughters to join the fold (would faith be more effective and less expensive than therapy, Marnie wonders). Furthermore, her octogenarian therapist Dr Schlapoberstein (‘Schlap’), who has had a silent stroke, hasn’t got the most secure grip on reality himself, making things even more topsy-turvy.

It seems to be set close to the present day but before the pandemic but, on further reflection, the novel’s reality may well be another alternative reality in which the pandemic never happened. This is reinforced by the affluent lifestyle that feels rather ‘90s. It’s also a world in which the Islington thoroughfare Essex Road (which was part of my daily bus journey to Queen’s) is smart enough to have a Waitrose.

Although I’ve never read anything quite like it, this book does call to mind a fevered Nora Ephron as well as fellow OQ Mary Wesley’s puncturing of middle-class manners. I look forward to catching up with Wise’s first novel, the dystopian This Fragile Earth, and to seeing what comes next from her wacky and wonderful imagination. As an actress herself, perhaps Wise could explore some of the figures of the Victorian and Edwardian stage associated with Queen’s in a future novel – a psychologist probably would have a field day with Esme and Vera Berringer, sisters who played Romeo and Juliet opposite each other.

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