Friday, October 15, 2010

Laughter Reviews: TAKE A CHANCE ON ME

Jill Mansell
Women's Fiction

Sourcebooks, October 2010

Premise: Permanent-, new-, and returned residents in a small English town wrestle with the meaning and limits of romance and parenthood.

Cover: Title - Generic sounding yet entirely accurate of content. Art - Pretty colors, images (animal sculpture, village street, winter tree and flakes) all relevant to story. Unique author font, cartoonish illustrations, and trademark butterfly all make this instantly recognizable as a Mansell story, further cementing the author brand in readers' minds. Overall - well done.

What Works: The back blurb gives the inaccurate impression that the story is all about Cleo, a young woman unlucky in love who has never left the village, and Johnny, the boy who made high school a misery for her, left to become a wildly successful in America, and has now returned. Their story nominally forms the beginning and ending brackets to the novel, but in reality this is about an ensemble cast - a writing choice that Apprentice Writer really enjoyed. More, she thinks, than if it had been a straight romance story about how 'girl meets boy and they end up together'. The story of how Cleo's sister Abby and her husband deal with the sudden arrival of an unsuspected biological child, how newcomer Fia turns away from her philandering husband and decides whom to turn toward, and how Cleo's buddy and neighbor Ash avoids entanglement with a young admirer while yearning for someone else, all had at least as much screen time as Cleo and Johnny.

It was refreshing that one of the point-of-view characters was male, and quixotic Ash was in fact AW's favorite character, closely followed by the teenager doing her cheerful and ebullient best to come to terms with a new dad, a new mom, a new village, romantic rejection, and a bewildering and utterly non-role-model-worthy old mom.

Also noteworthy were occupations. Though Ash's DJ and Fia's finding-a-new-life-by-becoming-a-professional foodster have been done many a time, Georgia's ironing business, Cleo's girl chauffeur, and Johnny's wire sculptor were all new to AW and she appreciated how each of these were worked into the plotline.

What Doesn't: The willingness of one character to allow herself to be exploited was both irritating in itself (if you write 'Doormat' on your forehead you can't be surprised if people walk on you) , and more than once felt fake, so as to set up a dramatic plotpoint later on. Yet even while she was annoyed with the self-sacrificing aspect of this character, AW could appreciate how the author showed the complexity and longterm emotional devastation of infertility.

Overall: An entertaining and thoughtful tale from the always reliable Jill Mansell. Good for the bathtub, the plane, or a lazy weekend.



Rachel said...

Heya! I was diggin' this description all the way up to the infertility bit. While I can't say for sure why (though I have many theories) almost nothing guarantees my loss of interest quicker than infertility plot lines. Ah well, not every story is for every person...

Hope Fall is treating you well. We're still occasionally hitting 100s (F) here.

M. said...

Rachel - everyone has their 'not my cup of tea' themes. i tend to avoid child abuse and domestic violence survivor stories, and substance abuse stories don't pull me in either.

As for fall - it's Canada's best season, and we're into full-blown scarlet sugar maple time, now. There's starting to be frost overnight but the days are glorious.

jill mansell said...

Hi, and many many thanks for the great review - I'm delighted you enjoyed my writing! If Rachel happens to see this, I'd just like to say that infertility isn't an ongoing feature of the story, which concerns someone who dealt with those issues almost two decades earlier. So she might still like the book!!
Jill x

Rachel said...

Oooh, your Fall sounds so lovely! I *think* ours may have started. The weather has been bouncing around but it looks like cooler days are here to stay.

Jill - thanks for the clarification. It sounds like I might just have to give it a go. :)