A few weekends ago I read a particular scathing review of this book, which (if I recall correctly) may have included the words “improbable”, “aggravating” and “hurl” (as in throw against a wall, not vomit). As a long-time reader of contemporary female romance novels and crime/murder mystery novels, both genres which typically rely heavily on coincidence, happenstance and flukey chances, my suspension-of-disbelief instinct is very well honed. Always on the look-out for an easy, fun book and having enjoyed Kinsella’s books in the past, I reserved this title at my local library.(FN 1)
Yesterday was miserable, rainy and cold – the perfect time for an easy-on-the-brain English female contemporary romance novel (I will not use the phrase Ch--- L--. I just will not). I made a hot chocolate, forced my cat to sit next to me and purr and turned my suspension-of-disbelief-ometer up as high as it would go. Unfortunately, there is no setting high enough to account for the improbable, aggravating and downright stupid plot point that this whole novel revolves around. (FN2). Kinsella’s books generally revolve around the basic plotline of girl is with boy, boy is not right for girl, girl doesn’t realise it until she meets the right boy, girl dumps the wrong boy and gets together with the right boy. True to form, Poppy is engaged to the dashing Magnus, who has great hair but knows it, thereby exhibiting vanity, a cardinal sin in contemporary female romance novel’s heroes, who must be very attractive but not know it. We already know that this is not the guy for our gal Poppy. However, Poppy (apparently unversed in the conventions of this genre) hasn’t realised this yet, and on a champagne afternoon tea at a posh hotel gets a bit tiddly and loses her expensive family heirloom engagement ring. Her friends all leave (of course! I know when my best friend is in crisis my first thought is “What time is the next bus out of here?”. That’s what friends are for, right?). Unable to receive a text message, she goes outside to get better reception and her phone is stolen. Oh no, her phone is her life! What will she do without it! All her contacts and texts were in there! (That’s paraphrasing. There were more exclamation marks in the book.) However, instead of doing whatever any phone-savvy Gen Y would do in this situation – namely, ring their phone carrier, put a block on outgoing calls and get a new SIM card with her existing number – she spots a discarded phone in the bin, takes it out and starts using it as her number. Because of course it’s easier to use a stolen phone than it is to just go to any of the gazillion phone shops in London and get another bloody SIM card with your own number. But wait, there’s more, and it’s not a set of steak knives. Because this is a contemporary female romance novel, the owner of the phone happens to be a handsome, rich, successful businessman who, instead of doing what any reasonable person would do – namely ring their phone carrier and put a block on outgoing calls from the apparently expensive phone which was been stolen – he agrees to allow her to use the phone as long as she promises to forward all of the messages and emails she receives on it to his personal phone. Well, I know I would trust someone who has stolen a phone out of a bin with my confidential important business emails! That’s how I got to be a successful businessman in the first place, right – trusting random strangers who have already proven they have a flexible moral framework. For sure.
You can imagine what happens next. I’m not going to outline any more of the story because if I do I may have to start banging my head against the desk and I’ve got a lot of work I have to get done today. But the novel concludes..
..with Poppy leaving Magnus at the alter and then attending the wedding reception with her new man with the approval of Magnus and his family. Of course!
** SPOILER OVER **
I probably wouldn’t have minded that the most important plot point is blatantly stupid but Kinsella made the fatal flaws of making her heroine largely unlikeable, unsympathetic and unfunny. The female friends, always fun in good contemporary female romance novels, are unlikeable, unsympathetic and unfunny. It’s not a relaxing experience if you want to reach into a book and slap some sense into the heroine (or, as I don’t support violence, give her a good firm talking-to) and it doesn’t make for good rainy-day-hot-chocolate reading. So, Kinsella, I’m going to have to give you an F grade on this one – 2 out of 5 stars.
(FN 1): I know they’re not designed to do this, but sometimes bad reviews make books sound more appealing to me. Take, for example, Kim from Reading Matters' review of The Novel in the Viola. Everything she hated about the book made it sound like a perfect bathtub read. I borrowed it from the library, read it on a lazy Sunday afternoon with much enjoyment and scored of 3.5 out of 5. On the other hand, there are books which I will never read, for example Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholics series. I find the premise of those novels completely appalling, a view which this review completely reinforced. Reviews can be useful tools with which to improve your reading pleasure if you approach them with discernment.
(FN2): Sometimes you really should just listen to the reviewer, though.