The Last Year of Being Single
Romance has the Big Misunderstanding. Chick Lit has the Big Lie in which an entire plot is wrapped around the heroine’s failure to be honest. If the heroine would simply tell her boyfriend/friends/fiance the truth, we wouldn’t have a book. Or perhaps we could call it the Big Indecision: The heroine’s life becomes a tangled web of lies because she can’t figure out what she should do, and it takes her 300 pages to make up her mind. Either label describes The Last Year of Being Single. Let me be honest up front, so we have neither the Big Lie nor the Big Indecision standing between us: I didn’t find much to like about this book.
Englishwoman Sarah Giles has been dating Paul O’Brian for five years. The first nine months of their relationship were magical until Sarah’s unexpected pregnancy. Both Sarah and Paul agree to an abortion, but Paul is Catholic, and the abortion weighs heavily upon his conscience. He stops having sex with Sarah. Sarah has pretty much grown accustomed to this rather odd state of affairs when she meets John Wayne (no, I’m not kidding), an obnoxious, misogynist womanizer.
At her first business lunch with John, he criticizes her clothing and calls her unoriginal. At their second business lunch, he starts talking about her nipples, and discusses how holding your pee can make orgasms stronger. (Remember, this is a business lunch.) Despite his obvious lack of tact and social graces, Sarah immediately falls into lust with John, and soon they’re having phone sex that she finds incredibly exciting. Even after she agrees to marry Paul, she’s still obsessed with John.
John is clearly an unpleasant guy, but Paul is not a wonderful human being, either. He obviously has severe hang ups about sex (although he refuses to talk to a therapist), and after he proposes to Sarah he buys a house for them without her input. When she objects, he says nastily, “You’re lucky I’m marrying you. You’re marrying above your class, you know.” The balance of the book revolves around Sarah’s attempts to decide whether or not she should marry Paul. (Duh – would any woman seriously consider marrying a man who talked to her that way?) She can’t make up her mind, and no wonder. Should she marry boring, frigid, snobbish Paul, or should she throw it all away for an affair with John, who thinks about nothing but sex and who cultivates an obnoxious persona?
Sarah’s inability to make up her mind is really irritating, and all the conflict in the book revolved around this – had she been able to make a simple decision, the book would have been at least a hundred pages shorter. Neither Paul nor John were likable, although there were a few peculiarly strained efforts on the part of the author to make John slightly more human further into the book. Sarah isn’t really likable either, unless you like lying, manipulating protagonists. The sex isn’t even interesting (I assigned this book a “hot” rating because of its blunt descriptions of oral and anal sex, not because it’s erotic.) Despite its flaws, though, the book did manage to keep me reading, simply out of curiosity as to whom Sarah would choose.
Since this book is written in the form of a diary, the author uses an extremely choppy writing style that I found very unpleasant to read. “Fireworks. Party. A friend of Paul’s.” Or, “I was early. Chose the table. He was late. Ten minutes. I smiled. So did he.” If you think this sounds annoying, try reading a full novel of it. There’s also a lot of text messaging going back and forth, which naturally is very abrupt, too. Perhaps to offset the choppiness, a minor character wanders into the novel every so often, utters a long monologue to Sarah, and then disappears again. (Two of these long, boring speeches about relationships come from her massage therapist and her old flatmate, who apparently have no other purpose in the plot.) There also wasn’t much humor, and what there was (such as obscene messages that Sarah kept receiving by mistake) seemed extremely forced.
I won’t say I hated The Last Year of Being Single because my curiosity about Sarah¹s eventual choice was enough to keep me turning the pages, and the ending was fairly intriguing. But it wasn’t enough to redeem a horrendously choppy, awkward writing style and a cast of thoroughly unlikable characters.