Scissors, Paper, Stone by Elizabeth Day

27th Jun 2012


So begins Scissors, Paper, Stone, the intriguing first novel by Elizabeth Day.

The plot follows the lives, both external and internal, of Anne and her daughter Charlotte as they deal with the reality of their past, and life with the emotionally tyrannical Charles.

The relationship between Anne and Charlotte is brought into the open and gradually evolves as Charles lies, motionless, in a hospital bed.

The family history is revealed at a well-balanced pace and the reader is left wanting to know more about what happened to Charles, and how the relationship between mother and daughter will develop.

The darkness underlying the tension is delicately explored, and the ending is satisfying and realistic.

However, despite the impressive list of endorsements inside its front cover, I found the novel lacked substance.

To maintain interest in a story of family life and skeletons in cupboards, a novel has to be brilliantly observed and expertly written – and Elizabeth Day’s novel does not quite work on either count.

There is an all-pervading sense of coldness and ennui which fits the story, but I was never fully convinced that that was intentional on the writer’s part – or whether it was because of the characterisation’s lack of depth.

The characters, although believable, are not very sympathetic.  Anne is a once-brilliant, once-beautiful middle-aged woman, whose marriage to the charming Charles was seen as a good match to all but her friend, Frieda.

She comes across, however, as a bit of a drip! – and I found myself wondering what on earth she had been doing for the previous 30 years before the action of the novel starts.

Charlotte’s character, though believable, lacked the detail which would make her wholly come to life.  When the reader finally learns something of Charles’ back story, it comes all too late, reads like an afterthought, and doesn’t add to any understanding of his character.

I’ll admit that my dislike of the characters may have turned into antipathy towards the novel as a whole.  However, were such an engaging storyline given better treatment, Scissors, Paper, Stone would make for a far more satisfying read.

Published by Bloomsbury and out now, you can buy it on Amazon for £5.99 in paperback or for £5.03 on Kindle.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended for: Those interested in family sagas or explorations of close family relationships.

Other recommended reading: If you enjoy this, you might like to try the novels of Margaret Forster or Penelope Lively.

Jenny Tipping


  • Cariad Martin says:

    My interest in this book decreased like a deflating balloon as I read this review.

    3/5 rating seems generous given what you said about it, I think I’d have been more harsh.

    It’s a weird thing, if a review copy is boring or poorly carried out, you end up feeling more strongly about it because you’ve HAD to finish it, when in normal life you could have just put it down.

  • Jenny Tipping says:

    I think 3 was fair. The storyline was good.

    To be honest this really isn’t my kind of novel so I was aware while writing that someone else would probably really like it and I felt a bit bad. I had to write what I thought though.

    Give it a try! It’s only short so you won’t have lost much even if you don’t like it!