After I fell in love with Mr. Maybe I was very interested in reading more stuff by Jane Green, so I asked if I could review Jemima J too. Jemima J was actually last year’s book. It came out in hardcover in America in 2000, and has been recently released in trade paperback. It contained some of the humor and pathos of Mr. Maybe, but in my opinion it is not quite as good. However, since I like Green’s writing, in this case not quite as good translates into still pretty good.
Jemima Jones is a modern day Cinderella. She trudges to work every day where she spends her time writing a Hints from Heloise-like column. Her co-workers mostly ignore her unless they are asking for favors. When the day is over, Jemima trudges home to the little flat she shares with two social-climbing hotties. She makes them a cup of tea and listens to them chat about which guys they are in love with now, and then she goes upstairs to stare at her glossy magazine clippings. She looks through the clippings, admiring the beautiful girls, wishing, hoping, praying for the impossible. That someday she will look like those models; that someday she will have a chance at beauty, success, hope, love. But she knows she never will because Jemima J is fat.
Jemima J is not just fat. Jemima J is obese. She is almost a hundred pounds overweight, and her bulk makes her either socially invisible or the object of pity. Jemima spends her days at work mooning over the deputy news editor, Ben Williams, who is smart, gorgeous and on the way up. But Ben, when he does notice her, sees only her eager friendliness and her capacity to help him move up in his own career. He does not see her as a woman, and he certainly doesn’t see her as girlfriend material.
Then one day Jemima discovers the Internet. She discovers the chat rooms and the strangely addicting nature of talking to people she doesn’t know and can’t see; to people who can’t see her. She stumbles across the LA Cafe, and there she meets Brad, who describes himself as gorgeous, wealthy and looking for Ms. Right. Jemima, lonely and desperate for company, lies a little (okay, a lot), and tells Brad she’s thin and beautiful and a British TV personality. And then suddenly Brad wants to meet her in person. What should she do? She does the only thing she can do; she starts to lose the weight.
This was a fairly amusing adaptation of the age-old Cinderella tale. It was rather fascinating to see Jemima make herself over, and the results that follow her transformation were both fun and thought provoking. Also, the Internet angle made the story more interesting and current. The characterizations were good, although I was a bit slow to warm up to Jemima, mostly because she seems so terribly pathetic in the beginning. The fun, lighter side of her personality we don’t really see until she starts having friends, and that takes a while. She has to emerge from her shell of fat first.
But though I liked the book pretty well overall, I did have some problems with it. First, the author switched her writing back and forth between the first person and the omniscient point of view, and I really had a hard time with the latter in this book. It felt as though I was hovering over the characters, seeing things that I shouldn’t, and it made me feel less like a reader than a voyeur. Plus the passages that read like, “Jemima doesn’t know what’s about to happen to her, but we shall see” were annoying.
Secondly, the book is supposed to decry the importance of superficiality, but things really only start happening for Jemima when she loses the weight. And then she socializes by choice with people who are hung up on looks. Even Ben, who in his own way admired the old Jemima, only really gets interested in her as a woman when she’s thin. And Jemima herself seems to value only the slim and pretty people. I thought that this same weight/self-confidence issue was better handled in the recently published Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner.
Still, I did enjoy the book. It kept my interest, and the plot twisted and turned in unexpected ways that kept me from getting bored. I would certainly read Green again. If you’re not tired yet of the Brit Chick Lit sub-genre, try Jemima J. I think you might enjoy it.