This for me promised much. After all, here is a man whose plays I have really enjoyed, the film adaptation of one, “Beautiful Thing” is one of my favourite films and likely to appear on my 100 Essential Films list and who also is responsible for some of the most sparkling scripts on “Coronation Street”. (Okay, I might not have been such a huge fan of his 1999-2001 sitcom “Gimme Gimme Gimme” but you can’t have everything!) He has chosen to place his first novel firmly in the chick-lit genre, unusual for male writers but here goes with a male point of view review for a chick-lit novel written by a male. I was soon feeling a little disappointed that he has chosen, with his debut, to go along what feels like very standard comic chick-lit lines. Main character Jodie is a soap opera star and the beginning of the book feels like we are in the territory of Tony Warren novels. (Warren is the originator of “Coronation Street” and wrote four novels in the 1990’s, all of which I have read and will post reviews in the future). A Tony Warren feel would be no bad thing and would be quite fitting but it soon takes a more predictable Bridget Jones chick-lit turn with a foolish heroine getting in all sorts of scrapes. It’s amusing rather than laugh out loud funny (and this, with Harvey’s pedigree for comedy was the biggest surprise. His “Coronation Street” scripts, for example, are full of laugh-out-loud moments). I had hoped for more. Jodie plays a nun in “Acacia Avenue”, and although the soap (together with its resulting press attention, Soap Awards etc) play a part we are more concerned with her disastrous love life. Prat-falls a plenty. It is enjoyable but its adherence to genre lines makes it seem some distance away from the originality and freshness of “Beautiful Thing.”
Back in 2013 I was invited to participate in the judging of the longlist for the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. (It was renamed the Melissa Nathan Award for Fiction About Life and Love, which is not the most snappiest of titles). The book I championed did not actually make the shortlist, (despite the author having done so on a couple of previous occasions) but it is the one from the list I read that has stayed with me so I think it’s worth telling you about it.
Despite a previous novel of hers being called “Summer Loving”, this was not published as part of a series but is a stand- alone novel which I felt might actually be held back by its generic title and “holiday romance” cover as I thought it was a better book than that. Flora combines a working trip to placate nightmare clients for the relocation company she works for with a holiday and the discovery that her boyfriend is dumping her leads to a reunion with her cousin (an Agnetha in an Abba tribute band). The whole thing is light, very readable and a very successful example of this kind of book. The San Francisco setting works well, giving it almost an Armistead Maupin feel. There’s a good sense of community spirit in a sub-plot when a group of characters aim to keep a parade of shops open. I did think this actually does have the legs to become a series. I liked the characters and would like to know how they got on. I was disappointed that this title did not make the shortlist (the eventual recipient of the prize was Maria Semple for “Where’d You Go To Bernadette”, which I haven’t got round to reading yet).