The Plus One
There are some books out there that feel like dead-on clones for other works. Sophia Money-Coutts’ The Plus One is a perfect ringer for two; a Bridget Jones in a lot of ways – give or take a few plot points – it also retells the Marianne Dashwood/Colonel Brandon/Willoughby triangle from Sense and Sensibility through a modern lens. But its easygoing readability and frothy charm – and funny romance – fail to provide enough juice to recommend anything more than a cursory read-through. The frustratingly underbaked resolution to the heroine’s lovelife and its naked aping of other books otherwise fails to spark much interest.
Journalist Polly Spencer has just turned thirty and is still looking for the kind of love that visited Marianne Dashwood. Unfortunately, she’s stuck in a Bridget Jonesian cycle of partying her way through the weekends and experiencing awkward one night stands (two last year – both with a Swedish banker named Fred who doesn’t know how to bestow oral pleasure upon her) between serving up lightweight froth about the royal family for the gossipy Posh! Magazine. All the while, she desperately crushes on Callum, a man who doesn’t see her as a romantic prospect even as she agonizes over every single text she sends him. Polly is getting desperate to find a plus one to take to her friend Lex’s wedding, and there’s no man in sight who fits the bill… which means she might be forced to turn to her ever-patient, ever suffering best friend, Bill.
But then Polly is assigned to follow Jasper, the Marques of Milton, a notorious society rake looking to clean up his image via an article in their magazine. Clearly, this leg up into the world of serious journalism is a sign from on high that Polly needs to right her own house and start acting like an adult. She vows to brush her hair consistently, shave her legs more often, indulge in less weekend drinking, and do more searching for a man of her own among the jet set while covering Jasper’s life. Surely Jasper won’t be the sort of man who will lead her into temptation! But if he does – is he really the one? Or has ‘the one’ been there waiting for her the whole time?
You already know the answer to that question, romance lover. The Plus One does have a bit of fun getting there, hammering heavily down on several classic tropes while ladling on the lighthearted humor in waves. But you’ve read this story before; amusing it is, funny it may be, but it’s also utterly predictable.
Polly is a full on ungainly Bridget Jones, with all of her awkwardness flying like a flag before her. She’s the kind of heroine who, after twisting her ankle and ending up in bed with her hero and having incredible sex, wakes up the next morning and anxiously tries to negotiate the politics of pooping a room away from said hero. The book has that kind of juvenile, potty humor tone to it throughout, and Polly and everyone around her are various levels of alarmingly unkempt and drunk throughout the book. Sometimes this really works and provides moments of humor – sometimes it just feels gross.
There’s a problem with the central romance of the book – it’s not the one you’re supposed to root for. No, not that one, either. In fact, you’re supposed to be rooting for two people who barely make contact throughout the book or have any intimate scenes.
‘Goofy’ is a good way to describe most of the proceedings in general. There is a character named Flappy, for heaven’s sake. There is a pouty sheikh (of all things), whose house party includes dead mice, discussion of how to buy oneself a dukedom, and a phalanx of horses and puppies. And yet, for some reason the author throws in a cancer storyline for Polly’s dog-loving mother, which I suppose is an attempt at humanizing her but instead just feels far too weighty a subject for a silly story like this one.
And yet there’s something eminently readable about The Plus One. As light as a balloon, it floats over the chaos of Polly’s life and invites the reader to do the same. Money-Coutt’s writing is light and bubbly enough to wash down all of the ridiculousness in a way that works well, and that is one of the main reasons I’m giving this a mid-level shrug.
CW for disordered eating throughout the book. One character is on a raisins-only diet. No, I’m not making that up.
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