Sunday, 30 December 2012

You Had Me At Hello

Mhairi McFarlane's witty chick lit came to me when I was in a bad place. Struck by festive norovirus, this was an easy read to christen the Kindle I got for my birthday. Chick lit is something I used to regard as a guilty pleasure but as I've read more it's become slightly too predictable to retain its charm for me. Still, it was 99p on Amazon and came with lots of good reviews.

The good bits first: McFarlane's style is punchy and fun. She didn't resort to creating Bridget-Jones-had-she-been-born-in-the-80s. That pleased me. Rachel, the lead character, had a proper job but had become rather less ambitious over time as adult life became stagnant. This quarter life crisis theme is something I could definitely relate to. However, I found her clinging to her relationship with the slightly rubbish boyfriend odd, and it was one of the things that troubled me about this tale. If Ben, the supposed true love of her life, had been so right for her, would she really have stuck at it with her unsympathetic, bossy boyfriend throughout university, as she lived out those experiences that shape and define your adult person? I suspect not.

Another sore point; the friends. It's not McFarlane's fault. The friendship circle of diverse, ker-azeeee friends has been a cornerstone of the genre since Helen Fielding created Shazza and co. But, similarly to all supporting casts in chick lit, they are always two dimensional, and serve to juxtapose the leading character's experiences with the reality of the green grass of another life. The character and marital woes of Caroline are a case in point.

Finally, without wanting to ruin things, the ending. This really, really jarred for me. The main reason was, the character of Ben's wife. Without wanting to spoil things for potential readers, it was clear from the minute he announced their marriage to Rachel that Olivia, the wife, was a disposable character. Her sole purpose in the tale was to be a roadbump. When Rachel met her, I so desperately hoped this not to be true. Alas, McFarlane went for the obvious and created a character so cardboard that you didn't care what Ben saw in her, why he had married her, why he had put aside the memory of lost love for her. You were just flicking through the pages, waiting for Olivia's fatal error that would see her off and clear the path for Rachel.

This lost love theme seemed to be appropriately bittersweet towards the end. Elizabeth Noble handled it well in her The Way We Were; yes, first love is powerful. But it's been lost for a reason, and we could learn more from moving on. Sadly, McFarlane (SPOILER ALERT) went for the obvious, soap ending, which after the build up, just annoyed me. I couldn't suspend my disbelief any longer, and I felt cheated.

I don't want to dwell on the negatives. McFarlane delivered a fun, sparky and easy read and I was interested to see how events panned out for the characters. Her use of flashback, dipping in and out of the past to progress the tale, was not distracting and I thought a skillful way to develop the plot. All hallmarks of a good writer. I just think it didn't do her obvious talent justice to wind up in such a bubblegum, standard way. A couple of hours with Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz will show you that the grown up thing to do is to give up Dermot Mulroney to his bride and move on. If it hasn't happened yet, it ain't going to happen.

I did enjoy this book. I flew through the pages and it did provide a great bit of escapism while I was under the weather. A solid Tube read, which would've got a higher rating had it ended a few pages earlier. Or perhaps chick lit just isn't for me any more...

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