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BJD was probably the first novel I’ve ever read in English. I was doing my ERASMUS in Glasgow on such a tight budget that I couldn’t go home for Christmas. So I spent those holidays getting to know the city, visiting free museums and reading the books my flat-mates left behind. I had books, the apartment to myself, central heating, the white Christmas I’d been longing for since I was a kid, and the company of other stranded exchange students. Overall, things weren’t so bad.

I remember being puzzled by a lot of the slang in BDJ, but in general thinking it was one of the most hilarious things I’d ever read. This was a time when I was mostly into the serious stuff, like the Russians and other classics, and BJD opened a whole new world to me.

As in my Mists of Avalon post, I’m not going to bother with plot, but just focus on what changed since that winter of 2001.

It was hilarious then and it’s still hilarious now, I’m glad to report. Now I’m even able to get some British-inside-jokes I’m sure I missed at the time. For instance, now I can really understand the level of rejection that equates to a rejected British Rail sandwich:

When someone leaves you, apart from missing them, apart from the fact that the whole little world you’ve created together collapses, and that everything you see or do reminds you of them, the worst is the thought that they tried you out and, in the end, the whole sum of parts adds up to you got stamped REJECT by the one you love. How can you not be left with the personal confidence of a passed over British Rail sandwich?

And I hadn’t read Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights:

It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.

On a different note, the whole office flirting with Daniel stinks of sexual harassment. I remember already thinking back then that they were going a bit too far, but this time around I was positively shocked. Was messaging things like “PS. I like your tits in that top” to your employee considered acceptable back in the mid-90s?!

My biggest fear with this re-reading was that I’d start thinking of Bridget as a self-absorbed, small-minded woman, with whom I’d have little in common except the love of ice-cream and Pride and Prejudice. I was pretty annoyed with her for her message-exchange with Daniel, but in general she surprised me. Bridget is a bit self-absorbed, and often dense, but she’s also someone who’s always actively trying to be better, to improve, and I must respect and admire her for it. She does it through the traditional healthy living resolutions, but also has the confidence to quit her job and a bad relationship.

By making her famous list of the men she’ll stay away from (alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobic’s, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts), she’s acknowledging her tendency to make wrong choices and, with the help of her honest Diary, change for the best.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I was really surprised by Bridget’s will-power and perseverance, even after historical skew-ups.

It is proved by surveys that happiness does not come from love, wealth or power but the pursuit of attainable goals: and what is a diet if not that?

The corruption of the good by the belief in their own infallible goodnes is the most bloody dangerous pitfall in the human spectrum. Once you have conquered all your sins, pride is the one which will conquer you. A man starts off deciding he is a good man because he makes good decisions. Next thing, he’s convinced that whatever decision he makes must be good because he’s a good man. Most of the wars in the world are caused by people who think they have god on their side. Always stick with people who know they are flawed and ridiculous.

And finally, during this re-reading, just like more than 10 years ago, I got upset about Bridget’s mom Portuguese lover. His name is Julio when in Portuguese its written Júlio, with an accent. Unlike, say, in Spain, it’s not a common Portuguese name, but I would be willing to accept it better if I wasn’t almost 100% sure that in her head, Helen Fielding was pronouncing the “Ju” as “Rru”, the Spanish way, instead of “Ju”, as in “Jubilee”, the Portuguese way. Also, the mom comes back from Portugal bringing castanets and a “straw donkey”. Again, perfect souvenirs, if you’re IN SPAIN.

*sigh*

Still, apart from these little details, I still enjoyed myself and look forward to the re-reading The Edge of Reason, of which I remember almost absolutely nothing.

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.

***

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?)

Sometimes I crave chick-lit just like I crave a whole box of Kinder Delices, so I always try to keep some around is case of emergency, which in the case of chick-lit usually happens when Spring is in the air. (I pretty much crave Kinder Delices all the time – any other fans out there?)

I’ve recently read two very different examples of the genre, the first was Watermelon by Marian Keyes, who wrote my all-time favorite chick-lit – Sushi for Beginners, and the other was Faking It, my first Jennifer Crusie.

Watermelon (Walsh Family 1)

Claire Webster’s husband decided to dump her exactly on the day she gave birth to their daughter. Worst, he’s leaving her for a neighbor with whom he’d been having an affair for months. Claire decides to leave London and lick her wounds at her parents place in Dublin, where two of her four lunatic sisters still live.

It was Keyes’ first novel and it shows: her great sense of humor is there, but the characters were pure caricatures and Claire was so fickle, whiny, and painfully insecure that she make it impossible for me to identify with her, a capital offence for this type of books.

The description of Claire’s depression and alcohol abuse were very realistic and you can tell Keyes is talking about something she experienced, but they just go on forever. For half of the book we are plunged into the depths of Claire’s dark, over-analytical soul and aimless thought process… ad nauseam.

And while the depression felt real, it’s clear that Keyes had never had a baby or been around a newborn. Claire’s daughter was the easiest baby in the world, a side-note in her mother’s heart-ache. There was this one particular scene that made me cringe. The baby is handed to Adam’s arms (the hero) and Claire thinks to herself that her daughter is “one lucky bitch”. How callous is this?! *shudder*

Also, Claire gained 40 lbs during pregnancy but one month later, thanks to her diet of vodka and little else (while breast-feeding), she’s able to fit into her 18 year-old sister’s clothes. Right!


Faking It

Plot completely over the top and belief always on “suspended” mode, but it delivered what I needed: good dialogue, eccentric characters, easy writing and fast pace. It also had the extra of being set in an art gallery, so it can count for my Art Business theme for the One, Two, Theme Challenge.

If you’re a fan of old movies you’ll also appreciate the copious amount of references.

Apart from that, not much more to say, really.

Any recommendation for my next Crusie?