By Bridget van der Zijpp
VUP, NZ$30 | Reviewed by Jennifer Van Beynen

THE SET-UP of Misconduct could be the making of a dream chick-lit book – a likeable heroine, the moody but charismatic boyfriend who left her for the neighbour, followed by our heroine going to extremes and burning said ex’s car, among other things. This could be a decent 100-page, emotionally shallow, drama-driven paperback complete with a sugary pink cover. However, in the entirely capable hands of Bridget van der Zijpp, such material gets entirely different treatment. Rather than fleshing out the above drama over the whole book, van der Zijpp sets her Misconduct after the initial drama of protagonist Simone losing her boyfriend, in the aftermath so to speak. At this point Simone is recovering from losing the boyfriend, job, driver’s licence and hefty blows to her self-esteem that come with it all. The book is set up nicely when a friend gives her the offer to housesit for an ailing relative in hospital, leaving Simone in a haphazard, craft- and doll-filled house near the sea. Throughout the book, she gets to know the locals, the beach and, hopefully, herself.

Bridget van der Zijpp does a great job of drip-feeding all the information and background to the reader slowly, but exactly when we need it, which makes for a rounded and well-thought out rendering of Simone’s healing process. Fraser, the bastard cheating ex-boyfriend, could be a caricature of a charming but scatter-brained artist, attractive to women but terrible to live with. Instead, as Simone reflects on her relationship with Fraser, the reader is presented with a well-realized character, one with angles and surprises and depth. In particular, the rendering of the scene where they first meet and go to bed with cups of tea is particularly well-realized. Slowly, as Simone pieces her life back together, the reader too pieces together what made the relationship tick – and then fall apart. Although Fraser certainly fits the profile of – and is – the ‘asshole’ ex-boyfriend, van der Zijpp shows that there was a lot more to their relationship than that simple analysis.

At Simone’s beachside retreat, van der Zijpp has created what can only be called a host of ‘colourful characters’ who nevertheless feel like real people. In particular, the harmless cannabis-grower Toss and the stoic but cheerful Clara help create a nostalgic small-town New Zealand feel that could easily descend into cliché – but doesn’t. Another potential pitfall of Misconduct is the ‘urban family’ of friends that Simone has. Though they are not ‘singletons’, indeed most are ‘smug marrieds’, their interactions and drinking together could be almost Bridget Jones-esque – but the most important of these friends are given enough page-space to show why and how they fit into Simone’s life, in a refreshingly realistic way.

Admittedly, the last sentence of the book threw me somewhat – but it lets the reader know that Simone is still questioning life and the concept of love. Her situation could easily have been tied up in pretty (pink) ribbon and finished. Perhaps this is van der Zijpp’s nod to the real-life quality of her book. After all, real life continues after books are finished, and after endings there can be only beginnings – and questions.