Dinner with the Schnabels by Toni Jordan

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

In our post pandemic world, it is a challenge to find reasons to laugh or smile. Thankfully there are authors with the ability to write a novel that is a pure delight to read.

Toni Jordan received international recognition for her brilliant debut novel AdditionSince then, she has published four more books, the latest being Dinner with the Schnabels.  In this, she demonstrates a talent to see the hilarious side of modern Australian urban life

in the hectic existence of an educated but struggling family living in Melbourne. Simon Larsen, currently not employed, lives with Tansy his wife and their two children, Mia and Lachie. Two years ago, he was a hardworking architect but Covid has reduced him to a man unable to summon a zest for life – he spends much of his day sleeping or stretched on the couch.

 Tansy is supremely calm, unflustered in even in the most chaotic circumstances, and treasured as a beauty in every way by Simon. She steers through family dramas like an expert in law, psychology, diplomacy and charm. She is never wrong.

 Both children are entertaining in their own characteristic way – Mia is clever and composed, rather like her mother, whereas Lachie, loving junk food, has a very literal view of the world. When his father remarks that their visitor must be made of money because she is a shopaholic, Lachie pokes her arm to test whether this is true…

 Their straitened situation now means they live in a tiny run-down house with two bedrooms. The kitchen appears to have been assembled ‘by a Labrador with an Allen key’.

 Into this far from luxurious scene arrives Monica the younger half-sister of Tansy. Her wardrobe alone adds colour to their lives! She is generous, lively, and a very successful influencer online.

 There is to be a memorial service for David, Tansy’s and Monica’s father. It is to be held in their friend’s, Nazeen, garden, which Simon has been cajoled into transforming in one week.

 A series of events derails his landscaping plans and the drama escalates when he makes an alarming discovery.

 Melbourne life for the family and friends is observed with humour and acknowledgment of the quirkiness of modern urban life. Food fetishes and fads, jobseeking for a man who is ‘overqualified or under experienced.’

 However, it’s the unflagging clever humour that makes Dinner with The Schnabels such a treat. Every page contains writing that is incredibly funny. A smile never leaves the reader’s face until the very last page.

 Their couch has faux timber legs, one gnawed, possibly by a beaver. ‘The fabric on the seats was flasher-raincoat grey with baby-poo and bile stripes, pilling and bobbled as though someone had attacked it with a stainless-steel barbecue brush.’

 Gloria, Simon’s mother-in-law, inspires hyperbole of terrifying and menacing proportions which adds yet another layer to an already enormously enjoyable read.

 The hilarity, a rare gift from an author, does not prevent Toni Jordan from constructing an engaging plot – Mia pursuing an entrepreneurial path, Simon’s interview with a former protégé offering him a tempting new career employs an astonishing amount of jargon. It is a brilliant satire of the job interview…

 Toni Jordan, born in Brisbane, now is based in Melbourne. She is a micro-biologist but has previously also worked in other fields. In this latest book, it is obvious she is a skillful writer, able to examine modern life in a clever and comical way.

 Ultimately, she assures us, as Simon himself discovers, that much in life is out of our hands, particularly now, in this part of the twenty-first century.

Dinner with the Schnabels

[2022]

by Toni Jordan

Hachette

ISBN 978 073364 512 9

$32.99; 362pp

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