Helen Fielding has a lot to answer for. With the success of Bridget Jones’s Diary, a myriad of authors have felt free to trot out the insecurities, dirty laundry and occasionally messy love lives of their heroines with impunity. Katie MacAlister, though her writing is very clever and adroit, doesn’t give much in the way of a likable heroine or a believable romance. And even though I enjoyed much of Improper English despite my own misgivings, I was thrown permanently off track about three quarters of the way through the book, making me want to fling the heroine (not her story!) against the wall.
Alexandra Freemar is an American in London and a wanna-be author trying to write an English-set historical romance in two months. Her mother, with whom she has a very difficult relationship (her mother doesn’t think she can do anything right; Alexandra agrees, but has yet to capitulate to mom’s overbearing demands on her life), has agreed to support her for the two months required. If she fails in this as she has failed in all her other life ventures, she will have to go to a rural Washington state town and take care of her paternal grandmother.
Alix, as she is called, has had many jobs, many relationships and believes she is a loser. She arrives in London and settles into a flat in an apartment complex and begins meeting her fellow apartment dwellers. She occupies herself visiting various historical sites for research purposes and is charmed by the people she meets and the languages differences she encounters. Most of the chapters begin with a bit of of Alix’s prose, and it is hysterically funny, as over-the-top as most of AAR’s Purple Prose Parodies. Using Alix’s groan-inducing writing as a plot point is really clever, and it livens up the already very lively action. It isn’t long before Alix meets Alexander Black, a Scotland Yard inspector who sets her heart fluttering. It’s only slightly longer than that when he first kisses her.
Alex is very proper, very serious and very handsome. He’s got emerald green eyes, chestnut eyebrows (which are almost a character on their own, they get mentioned so many times) and a muscular, gorgeous body. He is, as her landlady tells Alix, only interested in a serious, permanent relationship while Alix is only interested in a short-term one, since she figures the guy will dump her anyway, so why get hurt in the meantime?
The first incongruity is that the two get involved at all. They are so poorly matched it is astonishing: Alix is a flighty American writing a god-awful historical romance that she insists on reading to any person with ears who crosses her path, while Alex is not at all amused by her shenanigans, even ones that would make people with normal senses of humor indulge in a yuk or two. This guy is just really solemn, and seems not to get Alix’s wacky lifestyle or her manner of looking at things.
After they do get involved in a “relationship'” which manifests itself in their having mind-blowing, graphic and really fun to read about sex (MacAlister really has a flair for writing graphic without being purple), Alix starts backing away from the commitment, as anyone with half a subscription to Jane magazine could have told you she was destined to do. But her reason for choosing to end her relationship with Alex is what really infuriated me. While I won’t reveal any details about her totally irrational behavior, my willingness to view her obsession with herself as just another facet of her incredibly insecure personality totally evaporated after this ridiculous scene.
Alex is also annoying, since he doesn’t just move on with his life, instead insisting to Alix that she is the woman for him. This even though the woman has a selfish hissy fit because he has a job that demands some of his attention, even though she has shown herself to be inept in every situation save a sexual one. And yes, even though the woman is determined to leave him because he cares for her.
MacAlister does have has a wicked way with phrasing and love scenes, but the insecure and madcap heroine has been done to death, and she adds little to the formula. Most of the action is too over-the-top to take seriously. The insurmountable problem, however, was that there was no way Alex would have been attracted to Alix long enough to find out how much he liked having sex with her, and if he had, he would have had his breaking point – as I did – when she freaks out for no good reason. Overall, this was a fun read at times, but the plot and heroine definitely left a lot to be desired.