She's out of step with the style...

I've said it before but it bears repeating: doing an arbitrary reading challenge in a modern public library is going to lead to a high occurrence of urban fantasy, chick lit and cozy crime novels. I'm not (necessarily) passing judgement here, just stating a fact. And if this is what most library users enjoy reading, I'm very much out of step.

Learn Love in a WeekMy recent read fell into the second of these categories. Learn Love in a Week by Andrew Clover might be written by a man and have a review from a man on the front cover but it is most definitely chick lit. Arthur and Polly have been together for ten years (and three children) and their marriage is starting to get stale. Keeping a job she hates to fund Arthur's creative lifestyle, Polly finds herself resenting her husband's lack of earning potential and laziness around the house. Desperate to write and sell a teen novel, Arthur wants his wife to be more supportive and less rigid. When their two former paramours appear on the scene, they need to decide which they want more: to fight for their marriage, or to seize the day with someone new.

It's not an awful premise. As a wannabe writer with a domestically-challenged husband, there are elements of both Arthur and Polly I can empathise with. My problem is that I just didn't find it funny. In fact, there were bits that I was clearly supposed to laugh at that I actually found really depressing. Their marriage might be having problems but the willingness of both parties to fall into the arms of another just seemed quite miserable to me. And (apologies for the lengths I have to go to in order to avoid spoilers here) the way that one character so quickly forgives quite a major betrayal by their best friend rings very false. Maybe I have higher levels of integrity than the characters on show, but I just found so much of their interaction and motivation seriously miserable.

There are rays of light. The children are written very well, much better than they are in many modern novels. Each one has a distinct personality and is allowed to be both a little shit and an utter delight, just like proper children. Arthur's visits into schools are perhaps a tad idealised but the way Clover writes about the depth of parental love and the way kids factor into relationship dramas feels very truthful. As one of the least maternal women in the known world, it's one of the few books that has given me a glimmer of understanding about why consenting adults would put themselves through it. 

Note to husband: don't worry - I'm really not broody.

The two other main characters are Em and Malcolm. They are Polly and Arthur's best friends respectively, and these two relationships show quite an astute understanding of the different ways each gender approaches friendship. However, Em is foul. We're meant to enjoy her vivacity but she is a selfish, stupid cow for much of the book. Malcolm is a stoner who seems constitutionally incapable of unhappiness, and his transformation from weird hippie mate into lifestyle guru seems forced. There is some good comic relief from the two of them; they just seem far less fleshed out than the main couple, leaving their storylines rather flat.

In a strange way, this book would go well with Affluenza, basically reminding people that happiness in relationships is about more than earning potential and completed 'to do' lists, and that we would all be a little better off if we spent more time with our children, our friends and in nature. Affluenza, however, may well have been a more entertaining read. On the positive side, LLIAW didn't make me as angry as, say, Anyone for Seconds? did. The gender roles aren't quite as rigorously defined and there were a couple of proper laugh-out-loud moments. Altogether, though, I was never engaged enough to care about the fate of any of the characters. They're just not my people and this is not my book.


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