May 25 2011
Dear Ms. Kramer:
Let me share how I came about to read this book. When the first book, When Harry Met Molly, was published I was immediately caught by the title. It was cute. Like an LOLCat. I read it and thought it was enjoyable, well written, but a bit on the kitschy side. Kind of like its title. The second book, Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right, I started to read but never finished. I received Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage from the publisher but I prefer to read “e” so I trotted off to Amazon and purchased the digital version the day of its release.
There are those that like the titles of your books and those that loathe them. I find them entertaining and to a large degree, I think that they fit the tone of the stories which tend to try to exploit the humor of a situation for effect. However, that type of satire (the Oscar Wilde type) is tough to pull off. In When Harry Met Molly, my biggest problem was the silliness level. The over the top characters weren’t the issue in this story. It was the anemic chemistry between the two leads.
I wanted to like this story so much because it is about an untitled gentleman and an untitled lady. Huzzah for the commoners finally getting love stories. Taken individually, Captain Stephan Arrow and bookshop owner Jilly Jones are very likeable people. Stephan wants to just enjoy his retirement from the Navy, if only the government would come through on the money that they owe him. Jilly is trying to hide from her husband. Yes, husband.
I do understand that some of the exaggeration of the characters is purposeful but when humor is mostly situational and through caricatures, I think that it is easier to fall flat. In other words, the characters were caricatures such as Jilly’s manservant, Otis, who dresses extravagantly and refuses to let anyone buy the books in Jilly’s store because the patrons aren’t good enough. Then there is everyone on Dreare Street who is disgraced and impoverished or nearly so from the unwed mother, to the abandoned artist, and the failed investor. Jilly says that every type of Londoner lived on Dreare Street, but the only ones that are profiled in the book are the down and out, the dreary. Even the weather is added for effect. A cloud of fog hangs around Dreare, nearly obscuring the street from passersby.
So yes, everything is an exaggeration but because the characters themselves are so bland without their costumes and their awkward situations, the story itself stalls. The residents of Dreare Street need a better life but the overstatement of the characters’ made them less sympathetic and really served to distance the reader from investing emotionally in the story. And even though I knew that a lot of the eccentricities were done purposefully, the little plot points lacked credibility. Like how did Jilly come to buy the bookstore when she was married? Wouldn’t her inheritance from her father been controlled by her husband? How would she have managed the sale? What was the deal with Stephen’s money from the government? Why was that even brought up? There seemed to be quite a bit of fluidity between the classes. I would have liked more explanation regarding that. The story seemed to lack historical accuracy and even in a parody or especially in a parody, I would have thought accuracy would be important to ground it. It just felt off to me.
The most compelling parts of the story was the very beginning when Stephen and Jilly seemed to be at odds because Stephen just wanted to have drunken party after drunken party and Jilly wanted to make a go of her bookstore business. But Stephen’s partying came to a quick end and he was far less interesting without the aura of dissipation, sadly. Jilly was such a standard character for romance that her “running away from a terrible husband” plotline didn’t rouse me in any way. The end, when Jilly had to face her past, was also compelling, likely because it had more authenticity.
Thus while both characters were likeable, they didn’t have any magnetism for me and it seemed for each other either. I thought the two main protagonists made better friends than lovers. To some extent the characters were passionless, even the mild sex scenes seemed forced as if the idea of making love to each other was better than the act itself.
In fact, I felt as if everyone and everything was dressed up in a crazy outfit in order to move the readers’ attention away from the blandness of the characters. It probably needed to be more over the top in order to sell this as a spoof, but it wasn’t. I spent much of the book, sadly, bored. I don’t feel like I can give a grade lower than some version of a C here because there is a certain level of competency that is present here even if this book was not to my taste. C-