Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #6


Two former Londoners develop a friendship and work partnership in response to personal problems and boredom with village life.

What Works
Faced with the sudden, extreme realization that the economic and emotional stability of their families rests on their shoulders, some people might be tempted to retreat into chronic depression or substance abuse. Izzy and Maddy have no time for such luxuries; when it becomes clear that they don't know their husbands as well as they thought and like it or not must become chief providers, they roll up their sleeves and get on with it. The co-operation, creativity, and sheer grit with which they climb a steeper than usual learning curve is convincing and has the reader cheering for them to succeed.

What Doesn't
There is a disconcerting vein of casual contempt that marks the attitude of various groups towards one another, with little or no attempts to investigate whether an individual actually fits the preconceived label he/she has been slapped with. Izzy and Maddy haven't a shadow of a doubt that they are superior to the village populace based solely on their status as ex-Londoners. At their first meeting, Izzy is desperate to disassociate herself from the village women so as not to be '.....dismissed as one of them' by the newly arrived Maddy. For the village women, it is likewise self-understood that Izzy is beneath them due to her lack of wealth, and that they must ingratiate themselves with Maddy due to her apparent possession of it. Maddy seems to accept the fawning as her due, and when her circumstances change, is certain that the former fawners will no longer consider her worth their time.

Although there are some glimmers of openness to change in this behaviour on the part of the heroines by the end of the story, such pervasive class-based preconceptions seem outdated and thoughtlessly self-involved.

Apprentice writer is a closet Anglophile. Television series 'Coupling' and the original 'The Office', various home improvement shows copied by American broadcasters, 'Snatch', Rupert Everett, Alan Rickman, Ali G, the Scottish designers - these are a few of the wildly entertaining things that make her want to spend summer holidays in a thatched period cottage, drinking tea, wearing hats like in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and extending her vocabulary (so far she has managed to figure out that 'snog' means kiss, 'bog' means toilet, 'gobsmacked' means surprised and 'twee' is not a compliment).

This is all to say that she views a new-to-her Brit author and/or story set in Britain with happy anticipation, and will forgive weaknesses (up to a certain point) so long as stories do a good job of transporting her to another world. This one tells a convincing tale of sisters doing it for themselves, for the sake of their children.

But does it make you laugh? NO - but not its fault
Even though Apprentice Writer didn't laugh a single time, she does not blame the authors (Annie Ashworth + Meg Sanders = Annie Sanders) because it seems evident that they never intended this as a lighthearted romp. It is women's fiction, deceptively packaged as comedy. From the quote describing it as 'hilarious', to the three synonymous-with-luxury brand names mentioned, to the cartoons depicting the eponymous high-heeled shoes on one side and a cafe scene with rubber boots on the other (until the advent of crocs, there was surely no form of footwear less stylish or more susceptible to humor than the lowly rubber boot), and even to the choice of font for titles - everything about the book's cover seems calculated to make the casual browser think the story is funny chicklit. It is not - and the resulting non-fulfilment of expectations could well cause some readers to unfairly hold this against what is otherwise a reasonably well-written and entertaining story. As it is, in future Apprentice Writer will view books published by Orion with some suspicion.


Christine d'Abo said...

I'm not normally one for womens lit. If it gives a good laugh, then I might give it a try. Not sure if this one would make it to my TBR pile or not.

Wylie Kinson said...

Ditto Christine. I got all chick-lit'ed out a few years back. But I'm ALWAYS looking for a good laugh, so eagerly await your next review :)

Missed you at the workshop yesterday!

Amy Ruttan said...

I like comedy; but I don't read the women's lit or chick lit all the time. Mostly Katie MacAlister. If you're an anglophile like me MEN IN KILTS read it and laugh.

Amy Ruttan said...

missed you Saturday too!

Daniel said...


M. said...

chistine - i know what you mean, the term women's fiction is sometimes equivalent to 'downer'

wylie - i have a couple lined up that i think more than delivered in the 'funny' department - can't wait to see if others agree

amy - i'll put 'men in kilts' on my tbr on the strength of the title alone

daniel - welcome to my blog. any recommendations on comedy reading material?