A Promising Man (and About Time, Too)
This being my first venture into the world of Chick Lit, I have to say, I may be hooked. The refreshingly real, down-to-earth characters in this book just won my heart, and the plot, which sometimes seemed meandering and other times predictable, managed to throw me a few curves that I never saw coming – but thoroughly enjoyed.
Harriet Grey is 29, loves to travel, and cares about her friends, sometimes to the point of distraction. She also refuses to hold a permanent job, bites heads off on occasion, and has amusing fantasies which cast her nemesis Nina as the Witch of Narnia. No perfect heroine, our Harriet. I liked her a great deal.
Currently, Harriet’s living in the house that she and her father have co-inherited from his late Aunt Dorothy, while she gets it ready to go on the market, and temping at a job-placement agency. Her goal is to earn enough money to take off to Australia for 3 months, apparently not an unlikely plan, since her life thus far has fallen into a pattern of temping to afford travel, taking off, and picking up a new temp job on her return, while she saves up for the next big trip. Right now, though, she’s stuck in dreary old London with her flatmates, neighbor, and friends, mostly living vicariously through them, and bemoaning her own lack of a love life.
This circle includes Sally, an unemployed single mother, and her six-month-old, Tom; a dear mate named Jacko, who is, in Harriet’s own words “the most outrageous, foulmouthed, and instantly likable boy I’d ever met” (and my own favorite character); Helen, the neighbor whose husband left her with two boys, and who’s currently in the middle of a nervous breakdown; a blabby friend named Rosie; a leggy Swedish housemate named Frida; and a cat named Mr. Widdles. They are Harriet’s support network, and vice versa, although she hardly needs much support – up until the day she nearly runs into an old acquaintance named Nina (aka Witch of Narnia), and the gorgeous guy she’s with.
You know Nina. We all know Nina. She’s the utterly perfect, gorgous, well-to-do socialite, full of poise and presence. The one who tells you sweetly how lovely your sweater is and then laughs at you behind your back, none too secretly, with her cohorts. Nina has everything – including an incredibly handsome man named John.
Minutes after John sees Nina off into a cab, he strikes up a conversation with Harriet, who, having successfully avoided Nina, is horrified to be seen looking like “a pig’s breakfast.” When Harriet mistakenly thinks she’s lost her purse, John offers to pay for her cab home. Embarrassed but lacking options, Harriet insists on paying him back, and he suggests going for a drink some night. Thinking he’s only being kind, Harriet agrees, and is pleasantly surprised when he actually calls her. Now, however, she’s in a quandary: can she really get involved with a guy who may or may not be involved with Nina? Does she even want to, or would she just be a “side dish”?
If this book has a central story, it’s Harriet’s potential relationship with John. In the midst of helping friends in need – and getting plenty of advice and commiseration on her situation – she also ends up on a more subtly charted path, though. Harriet’s decisions have more ramifications than the immediate should-I-or-shouldn’t-I question; they guide her to a gradual understanding of where she is in life, and where she wants to be going.
The plot itself is twisting, and full of digressions and missteps. While sometimes a bit predictable, it’s never dull, and the occasional curveball will catch you delightfully unaware. One such twist, toward the end, came as such a shock that I doubt a lesser author could have pulled it off – but Ms. Young makes it work perfectly.
It’s the characters that make this book, particularly the narrator, whose amusing and witty voice directs the chaotic symphony of cast and subplot. Harriet is endearingly stubborn, insecure, witty and caring. She’s an immensely likable heroine, and she has an excellent supporting cast, as well – Sally’s pride and thoughtfulness, Jacko’s charm and flirtatiousness, as well as his underlying sensitivity and emotion, and even Helen’s panic and Rosie’s lovable blathering permeate this comfy little world. I could go on about each of these characters, but alas, there’s not space enough – I guess you’ll just have to read the book. The only character I found lacking, actually, was John, and given Harriet’s insecurities and thusly-skewed perceptions of him, the comparative lack of dimension seems natural. However, while this makes sense, it also makes it difficult to warm up to him as easily as to Jacko or Sally, for example. This is hardly a major problem, unless you’re reading this book as a romance novel, in which case, it’s at the very least disconcerting.
All in all, however, I found A Promising Man (and About Time, Too) to be a refreshing and extremely enjoyable read, and Ms. Young as an author to be, well, promising. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.