This Time Next Year
This Time Next Year, a New Year-themed British novel about a young woman in a pandemic-less 2020, offers not an enchanting dream of what this year could have been, but a story whose moral is: rich people are as miserable as we are, so warm yourself with that thought when you loathe your life.
Minnie Cooper was born mere moments into 1990, and one moment behind Quinn Hamilton. Minnie’s family is working class, and her mother had hoped to win a monetary prize for having the first London baby of 1990. Instead, the prize went to the Hamiltons, a wealthy family. Now, on New Year’s Eve 2019, Minnie is seconds from the Big Three-O Birthday and deeply attached to the Cooper family narrative that says she is luckless while Quinn is the recipient of all the best fruits from the universe’s luck tree. After being accidentally locked and forgotten in the bathroom at a New Year’s Eve’s party, Minnie is liberated by the handsome Quinn himself. They realize they’re part of each other’s life story and over the course of the year, Minnie and Quinn become involved in each other’s lives, ostensibly on the path to romance, though neither one appeals much as a main character, let alone as a life partner.
Minnie is one of the least enjoyable heroines I’ve encountered in my reading days. Minnie works at No Hard Fillings, “a business making pies for the needy” described as akin to “Meals on Wheels”. The name is especially funny because Minnie is FULL of hard feelings. She’s the sort of person who gives the best of herself to strangers and the worst to friends, family, and potential lovers. On the surface, she’s a good person who’s chosen a career of caring for others, but behind closed doors she’s thoughtless and destructive. The book and everyone in it know it, which provides the reader some relief, but not enough – when encountering Quinn after he’s placed an order that temporarily saves her business and she informs him “I didn’t set up my business to cook for rich City boys”, Quinn points out “the massive chip you [Minnie] carry around on your shoulder.”
Quinn is a weird, low-libido version of a British Christian Grey: at one point he rolls up to save Minnie in a literal Bentley. Minnie herself makes the comparison and wonders, “Oh god, maybe this was some kind of Fifty Shades of Grey scenario and the pies had just been a ruse to get her up here and show off his big fancy office and secret sex dungeon”. But Quinn’s so burnt out from acting as caregiver for his “agoraphobic” mother that when in the company of his girlfriend (not Minnie), he thinks how he “wondered if, just once, they couldn’t simply watch a DVD and not have sex four times.” He gets into therapy, but I think he and his therapist will need to work on his self-confessed tendency to be “subconsciously attracted to women with unappealing qualities”. He’s certainly not breaking that streak with Minnie.
The New Year’s premise sounds more intriguing than it is; the story jumps back and forth in time to a few important prior NYEs and NYDs, but otherwise, this is pretty much just straight up contemporary British women’s fiction. The writing itself is fantastically readable but never distinct, and by the two-thirds mark there’s no compensating for the misery of Minnie and Quinn. There are other secondary characters – Minnie’s best-friend whose colorful personality is expressed by the colors she dyes her hair, etc. In the end, everyone has a personal and/or professional breakthrough and, when necessary, becomes a better person.
It’s hard to imagine how a book could offer a vision of 2020 only slightly more appealing than the one we’re living in, but This Time Next Year does. I wouldn’t make any New Year’s resolutions to read this book.
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