Flailing, farting, wriggling, whining, squeaking, shrieking, sulking, squealing, and bleating. Drinking tequila till she wets herself. Reacting to a death in the family with histrionic self-pity, then failing to produce a drop of sensitivity toward either her fellow mourners or her improbably tolerant coterie of friends. Mucking up- again and again and AGAIN, for reasons as slapstick as an average "Three's Company" episode- her chances for love with a saintly, gorgeous veterinarian.
Sound lovably quirky? Exhausting is more like it. Sound funny? Well, yes, parts of it are a riot. But this book's protagonist, Londoner Helen, who is 26 going on 5, is one of the most maddening characters I have ever come across. I couldn't ever really like her, even when I sympathized with her problems. She was just too self-absorbed, too cartoonishly silly; very little else comes across, try though the author might. Then there's her mother. Is she supposed to be an object of pity? Infuriating? Funny? Probably all three, but in truth, I couldn't tell. She never cohered into a person I recognized, and making her a (talented) kindergarten teacher strains credulity. There is no way a woman who behaves like this one does- unable or unwilling to care for her own young child, for Pete's sake!- would have chosen such a profession.
Indeed, most of the book's characters are insufficiently imagined. Why make Marcus such a hissy-fitting gay stereotype, when he's supposed to be a womanizer? Exactly what would make the wise Lizzy dote so tenaciously on the feckless and often unkind Helen? There's a reliance here on grindingly obvious, "Just when you thought you were safe- here comes another catastrophe!" plotting; and an uneasy tone results from trying to graft serious "issues" and even gratuitous scenes of brutality onto the screwball infrastructure.
Yet, there were a few nice, original moments, like the poetic Chinese ritual Helen uses to help reconcile herself to her father's death. I loved some of the dialogue- who can resist the phrase "enormous great plonking plonker"? Or calling an eyepopping sum of money "650 squids"?
For those who loved Bridget Jones, this book will supply something approximating that book's rollicking humor and vivid sense of place. What it will mostly do, however, is make you appreciate anew how endearing, and convincing, a comic creation Bridget really is.