My Very '90s Romance
NOTE: This is a re-issue of the 2010 book Talking to Addison
Florist and psychology degree holder Holly sells flowers at the New Covent Garden Market while waiting for a better position, and has terrific taste in blossoms. But when it comes to picking the right place to live – not so much. Packed in with her latest coterie of loud and active roommates, all Holly wants is a little peace and quiet, but instead she’s stuck in West London listening to them giggle and badger her for attention (communal afternoon tea is a part of the lease!). Holly calls on her best friend, the laid-back Josh, on whom she’s secretly harboring a major crush, and who happens to be an upwardly mobile banker from posh roots. Josh happily offers Holly a place with the two other people in the flat he’s got a two-year lease on – and she’s horrified to discover that the place is a “shithole”, in her words.
At least the company is… interesting. Holly doesn’t get along with melodramatic Kate, a flat-chested and highly-wound legal aide who plans on shooting for the top and can’t stand Holly’s presence. But then there’s the nerdy-but-gorgeous Addison Farthing, a Trekkie whose obvious handsomeness (to Holly) is oblivious to him.
Addison never leaves his room, and refuses to talk to anyone but Holly – and this is only because she pushes him. An introvert, he prefers to spend much of his time debating the merits of Picard versus Kirk, and also spends hours on digital dates with his clingy long-distance girlfriend, Claudia – who keeps him pinned to the then-new instant messaging chat rooms on the world wide web. Addison hardly ever emerges from his room, and Holly becomes convinced that prying him away from his computer is a good idea. First she employs Finn, a handsome, funny and caring mathematician she meets through her university classes, to draw Addison out into the wild with geeky chatter and to give him someone to talk with. Then she gives Addison a makeover which turns him into female nerd catnip. But the more Addison circulates, the more accidents befall him – and the more problematic Claudia becomes. When an accident caused by Holly’s forwardness results in Addison falling into a coma, what will she do?
‘Shrill’ is a description I’d rarely use to describe a Jenny Colgan novel, but shrill is exactly what My Very 90s Romance is. Broadly burlesque, populated with stick figures, this is the sort of novel Colgan doesn’t write any more, and very well she shouldn’t.
Holly is, in a word, a mess. Two more words she also is: unlikeable broad. Rude and snarky when she ought not to be, her most frequent modes of behavior are mean and greedy. She’s the kind of roommate who uses all the hot water and eats the last Kit Kat without replacing it. The only way to make her appealing is to surround her by people even less likeable than she is and oh, are most of these characters unlikeable. When Holly becomes obsessed with Addison, she becomes intolerable.
Addison is mostly mute and morose, but he’s a picnic compared to the dull Josh, whose sexual explorations are the only interesting thing about him and – surprise – end up revealing that he’s straight! And then there’s Kate, who becomes friends with Holly, for reasons I can’t decipher, and is otherwise so intense that one wants to slip her a valium.
The love stories are fraught, but it’s HEAs all-round, even if the pairings are not necessarily those the reader might have expected.
There are strange little asides that are supposed to be funny or establish character but lead nowhere – like Holly saying she hopes Josh isn’t a Christian when he announces he’s going ice skating at the Christian Union, and multiple references to the fascism of the Parliament of post-Thatcher Britain. This doesn’t manifest into anything that improves or makes the characters interesting and instead feel like deadly earnest attempts at being woke. And the material with Addison in the coma ranges from unfunny to ludicrous to no-hospital-would-ever-allow-this-to-happen, including a chat show host using Addison – and Holly’s love for him – as ratings bait.
So what’s good about the novel? Well, most of the nineties references are on-point; Kate Moss, AOL, Michael Jackson’s love life. And Finn was delightful. As to everyone and everything else? Let’s just say this is one re-release that would have been best left to disappear into the annals of time.