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.
Lizzie Nichols has a problem, and it isn’t that she’s blowing her college graduation money on a trip to visit her long-distance boyfriend Andy in London. She just can’t keep anything to herself, including her indignation at finding out her beloved boyfriend hasn’t been completely faithful to her during their separation. She’s now out on the streets with no money and a non-changeable airline ticket home in exactly a month. Fortunately, Lizzie’s best friend Sheryl comes to the rescue. She’s spending the summer in the south of France catering for weddings in a romantic sixteenth-century chateau, and she’s able to sort Lizzie out with a job. One glimpse of the gorgeous Chateau Mirac, not to mention the equally gorgeous son of the owner, and Lizzie is hooked.
This book was recommended to me as an addition to my Happy Reads list by fellow fox, Jackie, and I would like to take this opportunity to send her a great big thank you. Because I absolutely loved it and it has made me very happy indeed. All this did surprise me as the novel looks like typical chick lit, a genre which does have some very poor writers in it and which has a readership a good twenty years younger than I. And it is indeed chick lit but of a very high quality, and oh so funny that I fell in love with the story almost at once, as the beginning seduced me with its humour and charm:
I can’t believe this. I can’t believe I don’t remember what he looks like! How can I not remember what he looks like? I mean, his tongue has been in my mouth. How could I forget what someone whose tongue has been in my mouth looks like? It’s not like there’ve been that many guys who’ve had their tongues in my mouth. Only, like, three. And one of those was in high school. And the other one turned out to be gay.
Wonderful! It did please me that all the characters, even the minor ones, are well rounded and not simply seen as caricatures as we meet them via the viewpoint of our heroine, Lizzie Nichols. That’s a hallmark of a talented writer indeed. Most of all, I absolutely loved Lizzie, a young woman with a charming innocence about life, a big heart and a big mouth to match. She’s funny, caring and very generous. We meet her when she’s (not quite) graduating in fashion design from her college in the States and is on her way to England to meet up with her new boyfriend she hasn’t seen for months. Her supporting cast of friends, Sheryl (Shari) and Chaz, are great and I particularly liked the way Cabot continues to flesh out their personalities with depth and subtlety throughout their interactions with Lizzie. Here, for instance, is Chaz finding the hapless Lizzie having a slight problem with a wedding dress she’s bravely attempting to alter:
He opens the door and pokes his head inside.
“Hey, what are you doing in here? We need you out –.”
His voice trails off as he takes in the mess my room has become. Snowy fields of lace lay … well, everywhere.
“Sweet mother of God,” Chaz says. “Did the Sugar Plum Fairy explode in here?”
Once in England, Lizzie’s re-encounter with the Andy is, frankly, hilarious. The scene at the airport where she fails to recognise said boyfriend (see above for explanation) made me laugh out loud, as did the scene with the blow job. Poor Lizzie! – my sympathies, and my sympathetic laughter, were all with her, and that particular scene is beautifully and subtly written, and not rude at all. So well done to Cabot, again.
Anyway, after a short period of time, Lizzie sees sense and flees to France, where Shari and Chaz are helping Chaz’s friend, Jean-Luc (later known simply as Luke), to get his family chateau ready for a wedding. Once there, Lizzie gets into some perfectly understandable and again highly amusing scrapes, including falling in love with Luke, dealing with his very difficult girlfriend Dominique, attempting to write her fashion history graduation thesis, snippets of which appear at the start of every chapter and did make me smile and, last but by no means least, trying to deal with the outcomes of those all-too-frequent moments when her big mouth runs away with her. Lizzie even finds that her skills with the needle and her knowledge of fashion history might come in very handy after all.
I also enjoyed the lyrical but controlled descriptions of the chateau and the surrounding countryside; the Dordogne has never looked so good, and it’s a mark of this author’s skill that the amusing plot and characters segue so well with this kind of lyricism:
I can see, seemingly, for miles, nothing but trees, and the silver river winding through them, dotted by tiny village hamlets, with the occasional chateau or castle perched on a cliffside above.
Indeed, there’s a great deal of energy in the writing which I found very exciting, and the (less common) use of the present tense was somehow unobtrusive and very well suited to the narrative pace and the character of Lizzie herself. Plus along the way I learnt an interesting amount about fashion, wine-making and needlework, but at no point was I overwhelmed with research – so Cabot wears her learning well and it all adds up to a very uplifting and life-affirming read.
The only slight (and it’s very slight) caveat I had was that I thought Dominique was a little too nasty really, and I couldn’t see why Luke was going out with her in the first place, although I did enjoy the way her character arc ended. Keeping to that theme, it was very satisfying how the plot strands and character development are all tied up at the end of the novel, and nothing is left hanging; the ex-boyfriend Andy turns up at the chateau in the middle of the wedding but not necessarily in the pursuit of love; the situation between Jean-Luc and Dominique comes to a definite head; and Lizzie seizes her own chance for a happy ending. Well done, my gal!
My conclusion therefore is that this would make an utterly charming film (and I understand it may already have been optioned for production), but is also in the meantime an even more charming book. I highly recommend it.
Happy Read rating: 10 out of 10 – well done, a perfect score!
Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot, Pan Macmillan 2006, ISBN: 978 0 330 41889 8
[Anne always enjoys meeting a fellow loud-mouth and has been called a “babbling brook” on several occasions herself. She has her own particular take on the big-mouthed fictional heroine, with an essential touch of champagne.]