A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Alice knows she should be happy. After all, she has a handsome husband, a beautiful house and membership to all the most exclusive clubs in London. So what if the rumours about her husband’s skirt-chasing are becoming harder to ignore? When Joe’s indiscretions force a transfer to New York, Alice hopes it might be a fresh start. And when they find a beautiful old house in Connecticut, Alice is overjoyed. For a while she and Joe seem to be as happy as newlyweds. But then the late nights and unexplained absences start again. What should Alice do? Stay and fight for him? Or leave with her head held high?
First off, I have to say that I am very fond of Jane Green’s books and have thoroughly enjoyed them in the past. Indeed I was happy to review Girl Friday for Vulpes Libris a couple of years back. So when I saw this book in a second-hand bookshop, I grabbed it off the shelf with alacrity.
I fear I should have left it where it was, as reading this has reminded me that even Homer nods. Three-quarters of the book is explained in the blurb, which surprised me as I kept waiting for the agonisingly slow plot to move on, so we could get to New York and begin. That doesn’t happen. Instead we stay with Alice and Joe and their London life and relationship history, even though we already know in essence what takes place. So much so that often it felt to me as if time itself had stopped and I’d never reach the parts of the story I didn’t already know about – a very frustrating experience and one with absolutely no dramatic tension in it …
In addition, I’m afraid I thought Joe was a really horrid, very selfish little man with no redeeming features at all, and Alice was a doormat who abandoned her catering career at the first sign of an engagement ring and a toaster and never looked back. Um, basically:
(Alice) was sweet, and she was grateful, which in turn made Joe feel generous and kind, rather like a benefactor. She didn’t expect anything of him other than his company, and when he gave her what she wanted she seemed in a state of permanent disbelief that he would be with a girl like her. Plus, he realized very quickly that Alice had a huge amount of potential. She was a lovely girl, she could cook fantastically, she’d definitely look after him, and it wouldn’t take much to make her look a whole hell of a lot better. With a diet, a decent hairdresser and a new wardrobe, she’d be a whole new woman by the time he’d finished with her.
Lord preserve us – didn’t this sort of story go out with the 1950s, or possibly even the 1940s? Though I fear I do a grave disservice to my mother’s generation who as far as I’m told jolly well knew their own minds from Day One back then and would have kicked this sort of “manly” attitude into touch while they swept past in their nylons and Monroe hairdos. I did look for a hint of irony but honestly couldn’t find one. Somewhere in one of the reviews I read in a desperate attempt to see if the story improved at all, I found a comment about how passive Alice is, and I can only agree: she has no job, no children and only one friend. Even the final love interest which comes her way happens in a reactive manner, as she makes no effort to capture her new man, who incidentally (spoiler alert!) is her one friend’s ex-boyfriend, so it’s as if Alice can’t even stir herself enough to go out and find a bloke for herself, but must take up with someone already familiar to her. I really wanted to shake her and tell her to go find her own adventures …
Joe’s mistress Josie is rather irritating too, even though she begins the story as one of the most (or perhaps the only) dynamic character in the plot. I was so relieved to see her independent spirit and kick-ass attitude that I could have married her and had her babies forthwith. However, within about half a page of meeting the dreadful Joe, she falls desperately in love and becomes the needy, clingy woman Joe already has in Alice. This character change frankly didn’t ring true at all – though, on the plus side, I thought it was interesting in the sense that Joe simply exchanges one needy woman for another and ends up cheating on both. Which probably rings true in the case of serial adulterers.
However, the houses Alice lives in sound lovely and I was particularly thrilled by the descriptions of her Connecticut garden – especially having recently become an Obsessed Woman With A New Garden myself. Ah, there I did understand some of what made Alice tick, so I think it’s a case of forgetting the plot and the characters and making a quick note of all those lovely plants.
Anyway, hidden inside all this, there is I think a rather sweet story about becoming yourself and having confidence in who you are rather than who other people might want you to be – which is all very worthy and touching, but this book unfortunately doesn’t get to the heart of its theme. A missed opportunity, and a disappointment therefore, particularly as this author can write far more successfully than is evidenced here.
Spellbound, Penguin 2003, ISBN: 9 780140 295948
Also available as an ebook
[Anne loves New York and is saddened that something as unspellbinding as this book should have some of its scenes in that glorious city. However she has high hopes that her next Jane Green read will be much, much better than this one, please God ...]