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Gripping, Dark Comedy: Review of The Girl on the Page by John Purcell

September 25, 2018

Amy Winston is a hot mess. Beautiful, talented, damaged: There have been four constants in my life,’ she confesses, ‘books, clothes, sex. And champagne. Four constants. And money. Five constants.’

Like an exotic butterfly, Amy arrives into the lives of a famous literary couple, revered great, Helen Owen and her novelist husband, Malcolm Taylor.

A clever book editor who’s made a fortune turning a B-grade thriller writer into a superstar, Amy’s task in The Girl on the Page is to get Helen Owen to hand over a manuscript for which she received a massive advance payment. Money that has already been spent on their beautiful home in North West London, loved by Helen, loathed by Malcolm. Helen has her reasons for not wanting to hand over her promised book.

Everyone’s life is at a combustible point when they meet, with Helen and Malcolm’s marriage in trouble and their only son rejecting them. Amy’s love of champagne is getting the better of her. Not that she’s worried.

The Girl on the Page is a wildly beautiful, deeply human story and a love letter to books and writing. Author John Purcell is an industry insider, and it shows in the way he’s skewered publishing – the gossip, the scandals, the passion, the art, the vanity. As one of his characters remarks in the story: ‘But then publishing is a strange industry: a weird mix of business and pleasure, passion and pragmatism.’

The takeover of the publishing house that publishes Helen and employs Amy, is a classic. The new CEO doesn’t have a single book in her office. All the experienced talented editors and publishers have ‘moved on,’ replaced by hungry young things. The bottom line is the driving force at this publishing company, not great literature, craft, or the nurturing of raw talent.

Integrity, not only of the corporate kind, but in the way in which we treat one another is central. Take this exchange:

Amy: What good are ideals in the world we live in?

Malcolm: What good is life without them?

It’s an important question and a relevant one in the light of the recent shocking revelations about banks and insurance companies here in Australia (while we await an inquiry into aged care with trepidation).

Hot sex and dazzling Amy go together. She’s wild, with a predilection for one-night stands and treating men like objects – not ideal, but it has to be said it is a refreshing role reversal. Powerful emotions swirl about as well with broken hearts, infidelity, betrayal and tragedy, circling the literary story like sharks. And there are no clear-cut heroes or villains although some, like scandalous Amy, are more likeable than others.

Chapters vary between long and meaty and short and crisp, giving the story it a one-two, punchy rhythm.

For those who love reading and drama and wicked dark humour – and are curious about what goes on behind the scenes in publishing – The Girl on the Page is a must read. Purcell even gives us a list of favourite books for each character.

A lovely way to end a deeply impressive book that has to be, if I’m not mistaken, one of the great reads of the year.

 About The Author

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.

Purchase a copy of The Girl on the Page here 









  1. Alan Templeman

    An excellent book,highly entertaining. I was disappointed by the suicide of Helen.I formed the view that Malcolm was a selfish pain in the arse and would much preferred for him to top himself rather than poor Helen.However it is very readable book and I recommend it.

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