This book was EVERYWHERE this summer. So many people on my train to work were reading it that the cover became more familiar to me than the pattern on my duvet cover. So that you can join in the inevitable conversation about this novel (or the film adaptation, which I haven’t seen but I hear is pretty much the same) without reading it, I did it for you.
If you do want to read this book then beware – there are massive spoilers ahead. But really, don’t bother.
It’s a gimmick. I actually forgive the gimmickiness of the structure because of the brazen way the novel approaches it. That and the fact that while this is annoying, it is nowhere near the most annoying thing about this book. What is? I’m glad you asked. Let’s list a few and go through them:
1) The characters
2) The incessant foreshadowing
3) The ‘twist’
4) All that fate bollocks
1) Nobody wants their characters to be perfect, because that’s a guaranteed ticket to your audience turning off. But when both of your lead characters are punch-inducingly annoying, you have a problem.
I mean, my god, I GET it. Emma and Dex are DIFFERENT (and yet, pulled together by fate. Oh cruel irony!). The one potentially interesting difference – their backgrounds, rooted in different classes – is never fully explored except as a means to a cheap laugh. The passages where this is the focus are so reminiscent of David Nicholls’ other book, Starter for Ten, that I actually forgot which one I was reading at points (and while it’s far from flawless, I did at least enjoy Starter for Ten).
But everything about these two has to be opposed. As Dex starts drinking and taking drugs, Emma’s drinking 1.5 litres of water a day, eating well, getting 8 hours of sleep a night and waking up naturally at 6.30am. Despite the fact she’s in her 20s, living in London in the 1990s. God forbid there should be any degree of subtlety in these characterisations.
They’re both reasonably interesting when we first meet them, but by the halfway mark Dex is the kind of coked-up media luvvy people climb out of bathroom windows to escape from, while if you spent the evening with Emma you’d probably have to go to the bathroom and stick cutlery into your legs to keep from drifting off mid-starter.
If there’s one thing this novel lacks, it’s any sense of why these 2 people are so obsessed with each other. Just what keeps them circling one another? The last chapter actually helps to explain this, although by then the question has grown so large it’s practically unanswerable.
2) If you don’t figure out that Dexter’s first wife is pregnant (oh, sorry, SPOILER) at least half a chapter before you’re ‘told’, you may have forgotten how to read. Likewise if it’s a surprise that one of the characters ends up dead (oh yeah, SPOILERS (but not really)).
3) Well, see above. I’m still not sure if Emma’s death is supposed to be a ‘twist’ or not. Or even a surprise. Here’s one thing I am sure about though – the death of a major character should have me welling up, at the very least. Not rolling my eyes and wondering if I can be bothered to finish the book.
3) Apparently people like this book because it’s all about fate and true love and... sorry, I had to take a break from typing to go puke. It’s certainly why the author likes this book. The quotes at the beginning of selected chapters (Hardy, Dickens) practically scream “look! I am examining themes of destiny and star-crossed love!” Look, if you have to scream about it, you’re not. Show, don’t tell, as both my GCSE English teacher and my current gynaecologist are fond of saying.
One day? Pah, I’ve spent the past week slagging this off.
On the shelf? No thanks.