Melissa was fired from her desk work at a London real-estate agency, but this is the chance to open her own business and put her social and organizational skills to good use. Soon after, “Little Lady Agency” opens for business, and Melissa becomes a “life organizer” for bachelors. Her ad reads:

“Gentlemen! No Little Lady in Your Life? Call the Little Lady Agency: Everything organized, from your home to your wardrobe, your social life to you. No funny business or laundry.”

To protect her private life, Melissa creates a professional alter-ego called Honey, a confident and brutally no-nonsense 50s pin-up girl, in a blond wig and tights clothes. She helps men shop for clothes, assists in dumping clingy girlfriends and poses as an envy-educing date to many events.

The Melissa/Honey China Wall works perfectly until Jonathan, an American client, gets too close and blurs the lines.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Courtesan life-style and this books seemed like a good fun fluff for a Sunday afternoon. After finishing it, my question is: when it comes to chick-lit, how much do you need to identify with the heroine to actually like the book? Experience tells me it’s the genre where I need it the most. My problem with The Little Lady Agency was that,  despite the promising premise, I couldn’t connect to Melissa, and even less with Honey (who had the potential to be the fierce woman I’d like to be at times).

Even without Honey, Melissa is already someone out of Mad Men. She’s curvy, discreet, extremely self-deprecating and the social smoother that everyone relies on but never remembers to thank later. Her old-fashioned tastes and habits – a cross between a Southern Belle and an English Rose – were actually quite refreshing and I could see myself in her at those moments, but why oh why is she such a pushover, so utterly naïve to the point of daftness?

Her interactions with her family were especially painful. The way she’s ignored, dismissed and misused… grrrrr. Her father called her a prostitute (more than once!) and she wasn’t able to defend herself. I was expecting that by the end the outspoken Honey would inspire Melissa to grow a back-bone at such moments, but it was not to be.

Truth be told, Bridget Jones can also be on the daft side, but I still love her. Maybe there’s something more approachable about Bridget, her grandma panties and blue soup. I guess I just prefer social awkwardness to knowing what the adequate champagne glass is for every occasion.

Honey is just a more self-confident version of Melissa. I imagined her with sun glasses and perfectly applied make-up, a younger Anna Wintour, which, as you can imagine, also didn’t help us connect.

The love interest took a secondary role to the whole Melissa/Honey dynamics and the path to self-confidence (that in my opinion wasn’t reached). I never really got Jonathan. One minute he’s flirty, the next he’s abrupt, only to then become either goofy or sensitive. Actually, I’m ready to bet that it we had a show of hands, most readers would have preferred Melissa to end up with Nelson, her flat-mate and best friend. That surely couldn’t have been the author’s intention, right?

Unfortunately, Jonathan is never given a “I like you, just as you are” moment that makes you go all gooey inside. It’s Nelson that gets to cook for Melissa, who rubs her stiletto-free feet, who helps her put together 1.000.000 little gift bags for her sister’s wedding and with whom she has the best kissing scene in the book.

I’ve read some thoughts about how The Little Lady Agency is more progressive than other chick-lits out there, but I’m not convinced. Melissa may be a successful businesswoman, but she did it by creating a separate personality that mixes Nanny McPhee and a Tough-Love Dominatrix. Her professional rules were compromised as soon as Jonathan decided to cross the line, and it also didn’t help that every time a client called her “Honey” my eye twitched a bit.

Nan over at Goodreads said that she “liked Melissa well enough, but her retro feminity reminded me of nothing so much as Susan J. Douglas’ analysis of what she calls the “New Girliness” in her recent book Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done“. She might be onto to something.

Although I didn’t connect with it, I’d still (selfishly) recommend that you read it, just because I want more people to discuss it with. This is the type of book I’d love to read with a book club: I can already see the heated debate between Team Nelson and Team Jonathan, but I can also imagine the interesting insights into, for instance, old and new ways of femininity.

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Other thoughts: It’s all about me (time)Tip of the Iceberg, Jo’s Bookshelf, Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog, A Library is the hospital of the mind (yours?)

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