The One You Really Want
I generally read each new book by Jill Mansell within a few days of release, so I was very excited when this appeared on the review list. I was less excited when I discovered it’s a reissue, but ended up quickly captivated, enjoying both the story and the characters. However, if you’re looking for a straightforward romance this isn’t going to suit. Ms. Mansell slowly adds a large number of characters into the story, interweaving their lives in a variety of ways. Rather than a single hero and heroine we have two clear heroines, and until near the end it’s not certain just who each of them will end up with at the end.
Nancy and Carmen have been best friends since they were eight years old. Carmen now lives in London while Nancy lives outside of Edinburgh. Carmen’s husband Spike, a member of a major rock band, died three years earlier leaving Carmen wealthy, but grief stricken, as Carmen was completely devoted to Spike. Nancy, in contrast, has just learned that she and her husband are obviously not devoted to each other.
In a scenario reminiscent of the Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman thread in Love Actually, Nancy accidentally discovers her husband purchased an expensive piece of jewelry and assumes it’s her Christmas present. She learns differently on Christmas morning when her husband leads her to her actual gift – a riding lawnmower. In a rushed Christmas morning call Nancy confides in Carmen but decides not to confront Jonathan on Christmas day. Nancy believes her mother adores Jonathan, and doesn’t want to wreck her Christmas Day.
On Boxing Day Jonathan’s secret comes out in a major way, and Nancy leaves him to move to London to stay in Carmen’s house where Carmen’s brother-in-law Rennie – also a rock star – has taken up residence. It would take far more space than available in a review to begin to describe the entire cast of characters. Once in London Carmen, Rennie, and Nancy all begin to interact with a whole host of characters including their next door neighbor Connor and his daughter as well as several women Connor dates, Carmen’s co-workers – and clients – at a homeless shelter, and an unusual fashion designer. Eventually Nancy’s mother moves in with them and adds other people to the group.
The book shifts from one character’s perspective to the next, with none having an obvious, easy path to a Happy Ever After. Seemingly minor characters – such as the haughty general who lives next to Carmen – eventually come to have links with multiple characters, and to play critical roles in various outcomes.
While there are a lot of characters, they all eventually have a place in the overall story. Some characters – most notably Carmen – change and grow substantially over the course of the book. Carmen shifts from desperately grieving her late husband to dating – and falling in love with – various men (and yes, she makes some horrendous mistakes along the way) to eventually finding a man who truly loves her. We learn that other characters, such as Rennie and Nancy’s mother, are far more than we initially think. I particularly liked Rennie, despite his many flaws. He’s a real charmer, is addicted to Coronation Street, is hopeless around the house, but we eventually learn he truly came through for Carmen in the months immediately following his brother’s death.
The character I was most conflicted about is Connor, Carmen’s next door neighbor who Nancy eventually develops a huge crush on. Parts of his character are interesting, but he had overwhelmingly bad taste in women – having sex with an employee alternately known as Silicone Sadie or Cyanide Sadie. And on a purely personal note, I was put off by how much he drank and smoked at times.
There were also a few small scenes involving a dog that completely threw me out of the book. At several points a character would give the dog a piece of chocolate and everyone in the book seemed to think it’s okay, which troubled me, given that everything I’ve read says chocolate is dangerous for dogs.
While I often complain about romances that have too many characters, The One I Really Want never felt overburdened, despite a seeming cast of thousands. All of the main characters were interesting, truly good-hearted people, with enough quirks to hold my interest. However, no one should mistakenly pick this up expecting a traditional romance with one clear hero and one clear heroine identified early on. It wasn’t initially clear to me who Nancy would end up with, as I saw several possibilities. And Carmen went through a number of men – at least one who seemed hero material – before she eventually got her happy ending. As for me, I truly enjoyed this book, and anticipate a future reread to pick up more about the various characters.