Sunday, September 5, 2010
What do you do when a book betrays you?
Has this ever happened to you? You’re reading a book, everything is going along swimmingly, and you know where you stand, where the book belongs. You’re reading along and then the author drops a bomb and changes the game. You don’t know where you stand anymore. What you thought was a harmless fluffy quick read suddenly becomes serious, overwhelming, slightly tragic. You get up, you wander the apartment for a moment trying to convince your brain that it needs to refocus, that it can no longer flit off as you read and enjoy the laugh out loud moments because suddenly, inexplicably, real life has invaded what you thought was a nice, quiet, safe fictional world that would give you the expected, predictable happy ending.
This is what Jane Green’s Bookends did to me. A book that was so firmly set in the chick lit, romantic comedy genre that when it switched suddenly, it blind-sided me. I found Jane Green back high school with Jemima J. Her other books I had to grow into. Somehow, the problems of 30-somethings didn’t matter to my 17-year-old self but as I’ve gotten older, her books have become more relevant.
Bookends follows the lives of Catherine, Simon, Josh and Lucy, 30-something Londoners who are dealing with a rut. Cath and Lucy open a new bookstore café called Bookends, Simon meets the new love of his life and Josh has a big deal going down that starts to strain his and Lucy’s marriage. Enter into all of this Portia, the glamorous friend that Cath, Simon and Josh left behind at university. From the moment Portia walks into Bookends, things are never the same for the group again.
One of my favorite things about Jane Green is her characters are unabashedly British. They drink gallons of tea, munch on Hobnobs and run off to the tube to head to SoHo for a night on the town. In fact, in Bookends, there is even a joke involving Mr. Kipling’s. My heart may have died and gone to heaven. Her books are always like mini getaways to England for me. In Jemima J, when she moves the action to Los Angeles, I feel homesickness for London along with the main character. Luckily, I had no separation anxiety in this book. Instead, seriousness invaded. In Jemima J, the element of the serious is so ridiculous that you laugh with the characters and move on. In Bookends, the element of serious is too serious to laugh off. It changes the entire dynamic of the book.
That said, I enjoyed the book. Green’s characters are always likable because of their flaws and their misguided attempts to make things right they themselves caused to go wrong. It makes me want to keep reading to find out if the character realizes she is being an idiot and then how she goes about fixing it. What I like about Green is there is no magical makeover of the person’s character. There is growth and change but it’s not unbelievable as sometimes changes like that can be. These characters simply evolve slowly and react realistically to the situations they find themselves in. All while looking fabulous in a bookstore I want to frequent on a daily basis.
I didn’t love it though because I could never quite forgive it for changing course from what I expected. Though it didn’t ruin the book for me; in fact, it did add an interesting element to the story but I couldn’t quite pardon the book for throwing me for a loop.