Friday, July 2, 2010

CBRII: Serendipity by Melanie La’Brooy

Although I’m guilty of using the phrase a lot myself, I’m not a fan of the descriptor ‘Chick Lit’. I think it, and its movie equivalent, are overused, and too often derogatively. But I have to acknowledge there is a subgroup of novels that fit the category. Based purely on my anecdotal evidence, they’re usually written by somebody who used to work at a women’s magazine. I don’t know why, but it seems like everybody who’s ever held a pencil in the office of a women’s mag ends up writing True Chick Lit. Perhaps there’s a rule book handed out the second some bright-eyed employee expresses a desire to write a novel.

They’re all very similar. At least one of the protagonists works in a magazine or advertising. If it’s the male, he’s very successful. The female protagonist, even if she’s the magazine worker, is a different matter. She’s usually a talented underling (with optional bitch of a boss). She’s ambitious, because that’s modern, but rarely successful, because that would be TOO modern. It doesn’t really matter because, regardless of the gender, the intricacies of the job are not mentioned. It’s just something to fill the day and occasionally create conflict for the sake of the story. Storylines involving a reporter inevitably involve an article published (by accident or because of that bitch boss) in order to have the requisite ‘Big fight’.

There is a lot of Wacky. At least two Wacky Friends, some Wacky Adventures, and a Wacky misunderstanding the author would probably describe as Shakespearian, although even Shakespeare would probably admit that his gift was wordplay, not realistic plotting. There’s a romantic sub-plot involving a friend of the protagonist (usually the Wacky Friend). If the Female Protagonist is dating somebody, he is Clearly Wrong For Her. Anybody the male protagonist dates is a Hot, Shallow Bitch.

Above all else: Reality need not apply.

Hero (yes that’s her name), is a sub-editor who dreams of being a reporter. Her Wacky best friend is a PhD student on history who knows nothing about modern times and ends up with a man who’s a music student so beset with stage fright that he can only sing in a Gorilla costume. Escaping a bad break-up, Hero’s on holiday in New York when Wacky Best Friend suggests they wear wigs and pretend to be somebody else for their last evening out. Hero decides to be Lola, a trapeze artist. She meets Oscar, a charming Australian bartender, and they have a hot one night stand. They both love the same Picasso painting, and agree to meet at the Met the next day, but, when Hero shows up, sans wig, and Oscar doesn’t recognise her, she’s heartbroken and runs away (you know, instead of walking up, explaining the situation, apologising profusely and admitting she’d still really like to look at Le Reve with him, like a normal, self-aware adult).

2 years later, back in Sydney, she's staring at Le Reve while it's on loan to some Sydney Gallery and, what do you know, Oscar sits beside her. He’s now the owner of a company called Serendipity, who arrange Romance (balloon flights, hay rides, flowers, etc.). She’s now dating a man called Pelham who lives on the North Shore, and this fact is repeatedly used as shorthand for how much of a snob he is/how wrong he is for Hero. (On a purely personal note, the ITGeek grew up on the North Shore. I grew up in a Victorian suburb a federal politician once called a ‘ghetto’. Our entire families adore each other. Fuck you and your half-arsed stereotypes, Melanie).

There’s a lot of Wacky Shenanigans (sex shops, bridal shows, transsexuals, the aforementioned singing Gorilla), Hero writes an article slamming Serendipity which, of course, accidently gets published, Wacky Best Friend ends up pregnant to Gorilla-man (and not once is it even mentioned how two students are going to find the money to support this rugrat), and of course, the Guy gets the Girl. There’s an entirely unnecessary dead fiancé that’s supposed to be some sort of big revelation, and evidence of how Deep Oscar is.

So the plot is half-baked. The characters are caricatures. The Personal Growth, such as it is, is a raging cliché (‘be true to yourself’/’True love conquers all’.)

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

La’Brooy’s strength lies, totally, in her dialogue. I’ll forgive a lot when the banter makes me laugh, and she had me giggling, even after a tough day at work. She recognises the Golden Rule of Romance – your protagonists should be likeable, and the douchebaggery should be kept to an absolute minimum (and whatever there is should be called on, if not by the other protagonist, than by those Wacky Friends). It's a romp, so light-hearted it floats, and so forgettable that even now, I'm having trouble remembering the Wacky Friend's names (Summer? Was Gorilla Man called Toby?).

I won't whole-heartedly recommend this book, of course. In the wrong kind of mood, I probably would have wanted to stab my eyes out rather than keep reading it. But it's been two weeks since I've read it, and despite it's many flaws, I can't say I hate it. As Chick Lit goes, you can do worse than Melanie La'Brooy. A lot worse.

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