Friday, May 27, 2011

I Remember You

With I Remember You, Harriet Evans attempts to combine two genres, and the result's not quite what it could be.  Genre number one, the classic chick lit romance, works fairly well - except where genre two interferes.  Genre two, the mysterious family saga, not only doesn't work at all but takes away from the other aspect of the book.  Overall, the book felt like The Thirteenth Tale mushed up in a sandwich with The Finishing Touches, with not quite enough mustard or pickle.

The main story begins as boring Tess* goes home to boring Langford from dreary London, having been dumped by her caricature of a posh London boyfriend.  (I'm skipping the overly sentimental and foreshadowing prologue part.)  She then reconnects with her immature and unappealing best friend from childhood, Adam, who still lives in his childhood home and hasn't yet bothered to clear out any of his dead mother's things, even though she died when he was eighteen and it's been thirteen years.

There's a long and overall pointless** trip to Rome in there somewhere, and some stuff about the old lady who lives across from the pub and was the daughter of the local great family.  Her backstory could have been dramatic and interesting, but was instead unsympathetic and dreary.  Really, the concept of dreariness keeps popping up over and over again here.

Am I forgetting anything, other than the completely and utterly predictable ending?  Well, the book's way too long - thank you, pointless mysterious family saga drama that has no real place here - and the secondary characters are unconvincing.  That's about it.  It kept me less bored for a couple of hours than some other books have in the past.  It looks like this book, unlike others by Evans, was not a bestseller, so that reassures me; however, the title is stupid, and that makes me angry.  Two and a half stars within its genre.

* This requires clarification.  Often, in the beginning of a chick lit novel, the heroine is "boring" as in: in a rut and in need of new shoes, a manicure, and someone to have sex with.  I don't mean it that way at all.  I mean the character is boring.  To herself, and to the reader, and presumably to the other characters as well.

** The only point was to introduce a secondary love interest for boring Tess.  Since anyone who's ever read a chick lit story before already knows, after page one, just how this book is going to end, it was pointless.  QED.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Damsel in Distress

It's hard to know where to begin either in describing or in praising P.G. Wodehouse.  He is perhaps most famous for creating the brainy butler Jeeves and his feckless young master, Bertie Wooster, and it's undeniable that the stories featuring this duo are some of Wodehouse's best.  What's interesting about his lesser-known and even arguably lesser works, such as A Damsel in Distress, is that they're paradoxically much better novels.

For those of my readers unfamiliar with Wodehouse, I should give a few words of background.  His stories take place primarily in England in the 20s and 30s; topics include golf, romances with chorus girls, and pig-husbandry, although that fails utterly to do Wodehouse justice.  He is the undisputed master of the fine arts of simile and metaphor, enough already to be going along with; his skill with the complex comic plot is second to none.  His gift for naming his characters* transcends any flights of imagination ever displayed by fantasy writers, even the best of them.

When all of these qualities combine, the whole truly becomes better than the sum of the parts; the Jeeves stories display these powers to their fullest.  And yet, amidst all the lightness and silliness and frantic slapstick, although silver cow-creamers are stolen, scandalous memoirs are written by Earls in their dotage, and plots are hatched to keep the moody French cook from defecting from Aunt Dahlia's household, Wodehouse's most sparkling stories stories fail to absorb the reader the way other novels, less brilliant but more human, are able to do.

A Damsel in Distress isn't as funny as any of the Jeeves oeuvre**, and it's not as ridiculous as the Blandings Castle novels.  It is, however, a perfectly charming and often quite amusing novel about young love in the English countryside, a subject Wodehouse tackled often, generally with his tongue firmly in cheek.  In this case, the romance seems more genuine, the characters are more real, and the result is an enjoyable story - with just enough mistaken identity, plotting servants, absent-minded old gents, and chorus girls to make it true Wodehouse.

I recommend any Wodehouse whole-heartedly, and I recommend A Damsel in Distress without reservations. Four stars, in any genre.

* Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps and Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright spring to mind.  Anyone expecting their first child and bored by all the classic baby-name-book choices?  Thank me later.

** Also recommended: the TV series.  The DVDs are available from Amazon.