[Book Review] The Rosie Project

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Every once in a while, you run into a book that has more than a plot: it has a promise. You get eager to read it because it sounds so unique from its story alone, because you think you’ll run into something innovative and inspiring, something fresh and new. And with the game set, some authors still manage to ruin the completely brilliant premise they had.

That’s what happened to The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion, Penguin, 329 pages). The story is narrated by Don Tillman, a Genetics professor who supposedly has Asperger’s Syndrome and decides to write down a list of questions to be answered by random girls so he can solve the “wife problem” and get married at last. In the middle of it, he runs into Rosie, a girl who has all the wrong answers to his questions, but becomes his friend in her quest to find out who her biological father is.

The first 100 or so pages of the book are very good: Don is an interesting, out of the ordinary character and the story seems to be set for a great development. The writing isn’t exactly fantastic (it’s pretty ordinary, to be honest), but both Don and Rosie are fascinating in the way they’re presented, and there are some very nice scenes that can be both sweet and meaningful, just like love really is.

Unfortunately, the author gets lost in his own plot. There are so many completely useless and irrelevant scenes you at first wonder if the story really is complex enough to use them all (it isn’t). There are so many scenes that turn out to be petrifyingly embarrassing you wonder if the author really meant for them to be funny (he did). There are so many boring secondary characters you hope your copy has a defect and will actually end before it seems it’s going to end (it won’t). And then you wonder if the ending will be as obvious as you thought at first (it will).

And trust me, I tried. I gave this book a chance. I was so excited at its innovative façade after the first hundred pages I thought it would somehow recover and end in an also innovative way. Turns out everything in the last 200 pages of the book alternated between annoying and cliché. The author reached a point in which he had the main character watch romantic comedies to apparently learn how to be a “romantic comedy guy”: but why, just WHY would anyone want a guy who isn’t purely himself? Good romantic comedies (and chick lit) male characters aren’t loved simply for what they do, but for whom they are. What they do simply reflects their virtues.

As if that complete wreck of a plot weren’t enough, its biggest promise – Don and Rosie – is completely ruined by lack of consistency. If you’re going to write a book about someone with autism, this person better portrait autism throughout the entire book, otherwise it was simply a lie you told your reader to trick him or her into reading about an actually rude and insensitive guy who has no explanation for behaving the way he does. And if you’re selling me a girl who is easy going and comprehensive, she better not create idiotic problems because of small things that have no significance at all.

The author points out in his acknowledgements that he wrote this book in a hurry. It sure shows. Whoever edited it also seemed to be in a hurry, otherwise they would have cut half the pages in this book and told him to rewrite whatever was left after the character’s introduction. If you wanted to read this, take my work for it: just don’t.

[Book Review] Wedding Night

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Few things are more frustrating than disliking a new book from a favorite author. After months (or years) of anticipation, you hope they will not disappoint you and deliver something that at least equals their previous works. So you order the new book, you wait for it to be delivered, you look longingly at the cover before you get started and set your expectations up high from page one already.

Liking Sophie Kinsella so much was one of the reasons I was extremely disappointed with Wedding Night (The Dial Press, 446 pages). The book alternates chapters between two sisters, Lottie and Fliss, as the second tries to stop the first from an impulsive marriage after Lottie breaks up with her previous boyfriend.

It is extremely difficult for a chick-lit fan to criticize Sophie Kinsella, who is one of the best authors of the genre. Her plots are usually well built, her writing is very good, her talent to write comedy will make you laugh out loud in public and embarrass yourself. In Wedding Night, however, the same joke is explored to exhaustion throughout at least three quarters of the book, leaving the reader impatient for it to be over or at least for something new to happen. This would have been much better if it were 100 or 150 pages shorter.

Long chick-lit books are perfectly enjoyable, though, as long as the main characters are charismatic and relatable: it’s hard to root for a couple if you dislike them both. That was my problem with 50 Ways to Find a Lover and now, with Wedding Night. From chapter one I wanted to shake Lottie by her shoulders and tell her to control herself: she is whiny, self-centered and inconsequent, irresponsible and thoughtless, demanding and, what’s worse, unbelievable. It’s not that I expected her to be perfect – it would have made her completely unreal –, but is it too much to ask for a character both likeable and credible? Both the boys surrounding her are also damp and colorless to the point I can’t even remember their names.

The one good part of the book are the chapters written from Fliss’s point of view, especially because of Lorcan, a friend of the groom who helps her stop the couple. Lorcan and Fliss are the only characters to whom Kinsella gave an actual voice, even if it’s difficult to accept the degree to which Fliss interferes in her sister’s life, leaving the reader also only half-heartedly rooting for her. Lorcan is, in the end, the only reasonable person in the entire book, and he barely appears in it.

(Lorcan is also sexy as hell. Feel free to imagine him as Benedict Cumberbatch. I did. Only thing that saved the book.)

As if it weren’t enough, include a predictable plot twist and a cheesy ending to this mess and you’ll have a good idea what reading this felt like. Even if Kinsella’s writing makes the book flow despite of its flaws, it’s a shame that we’ll have to wait longer to have another great story from someone so talented in warming hearts and causing laughter. If you want to read Kinsella, don’t get started with this one.

[Book Review] 50 Ways To Find A Lover

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I like chick-lit as a genre. I really, really do; ever since I read The Princess Diaries back when I was 13, I have gone from Meg Cabot to Sophie Kinsella and back so many times I have a hard time keeping track of which ones I have and which ones I haven’t read. That does not mean, however, that every chick-lit is fantastic. Hell, it doesn’t even mean it’s entertaining. And sometimes, even though everything about a book makes you hope for classic, simple, sweet romance with a failed main character finding her “Prince charming”, the result is such a disaster you can’t help feel a tiny bit frustrated about love stories for a while.

That is precisely what I felt as I read 50 Ways To Find A Lover (Lucy-Anne Holmes, paperback by Pan Books, 328 pages): frustration. It all begins the moment you have to get over the title and explain again and again to anyone who sees you carrying the book around that no, this is not self-help literature. I understand they must have decided on it as a funny little joke, as if it somehow made the novel more sophisticated because of its mock title, but it is more embarrassing than it is cute.

Then comes the plot: a complete and absolute mess. I can’t remember reading a novel with such poor organization or fluency since Jane Green’s Mr. Maybe, also classifiable as chick-lit. The main character, Sarah, has been single for more than three years (imagine that! Being single! The horror!), is almost turning 30 and becomes desperate after she asks a balding bartender out, but he decides he’s better off watching the new Narnia movie at home. She then joins a reality show after her family and friends enter her name, which sounds like an interesting idea for a chick-lit novel, but is dropped right at the beginning of the book and is completely and absolutely useless. Then she decides to start a blog, trying out fifty different ways to find a lover (whoa, look at how clever that title is) and reporting her success.

From this simple summary one can already gather how absolutely chaotic this plot is. Not only is the part about the reality show useless, it is also obvious from the simple fact that the book is 328 pages long that the aforementioned fifty methods will not be fully executed. The book, released in 2009, has a character in her twenties who had never heard of a blog. Entire chapters could have been cut off without changing the story in the slightest; characters could have been written off and made it a much more pleasant experience. I really hadn’t read anything this bad in quite a while.

Two things annoyed me the most, though, and they were precisely the two key elements to a decent chick-lit novel: the main character and “Prince charming”. While no one can endure reading about a perfect main character to whom one can’t relate, it is equally irritating – or at least so it is for me – to read about someone who simply cannot make a single decent choice, who can’t take a single rational decision and who behaves so recklessly. As to the “prince”, I can only say this man was such an obvious choice and a boring character I had actually convinced myself that Sarah was going to end up with the only interesting, charismatic, polite man she meets in the whole book. By the end of it, I hated Sarah so much I was seriously happy to see her ditch him and end up with the boring boy. It’s the first time I’ve seen chick-lit in which I root against the main character, which is, of course, absurd.

I also need a couple of lines to point out something highly annoying about the idea of this book per se: why does Sarah even need a boyfriend in the first place? I imagined she would throughout the book find independence and notice she was born and would die as a perfectly functional woman who does not depend on the existence of a man, but no. Quite on the contrary: she is miserable until she finds her match. Also, what is the problem with being rejected by a balding man? Does the lack of hair on the top of his head mean he has to accept any girl who is interested in him? How can balding possibly be used as a symbol to decadence? If I were him, I would reject Sarah and spend my night watching Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian as well.

Don’t be fooled by the pretty little cover and the promise of romance: this is such a poorly developed story it hurts. If you don’t mind a poor plot, an annoying main character, a boring “prince”, bad writing and wasting hours of your life on something that basically goes nowhere, maybe, just maybe, you might actually care for it. I’m pretty sure, however, you probably won’t.