- Publish Date
- Thursday, 18 May 2017, 8:50PM
- By Stephanie Jones
As the title hints, the invitation posed by How Not to Fall in Love, Actually, the first novel by Christchurch writer Catherine Bennetto, is to laugh along as a young Londoner’s stable-enough urban existence lurches into one pothole and pratfall after another, beginning with an unplanned pregnancy, at age 27, to her affectionate but child-like and perennially unemployed live-in boyfriend.
To Emma George, the prospect of supporting not just herself and Ned but an infant is outlandish, and he’s given his marching orders, opening up the plot to various Bridget Jones-style escapades and suitors, men whose worth the reader can judge by their ability to see past the pregnancy waddle and to Emma’s value as a whole, complicated woman.
But this is no feminist manifesto: Bennetto prefers to go broad, not deep, aided by a posse of stock romantic comedy characters: the younger sister who has her life tied up with a bow, inadvertently showcasing the heroine’s chaos; the close-in-age uncle whose happy parenthood of an unruly brood is a sneak peek into one version of the future; the best friend / Greek chorus; the sweet-natured young man who did some gardening for Grandma, gets drunk and accidentally moves in with the heroine (that’s with, not on; this story is more concerned with love than lust).
The latter plot point exemplifies the loopy scenario that Bennetto is wont to construct and then whizz right past, because there’s always another troublesome but non-lethal absurdity to land on. In general, the narrative whirls like a salad spinner, and it has a similarly tight range. Bennetto seems to burn through a lot of plot – the first 60 pages alone cover pregnancy, break-up, familial death and unemployment – but the whole tale takes place in the length of a pregnancy and within the confines of Emma’s mind.
There are funny set pieces, such as when a four-year-old quizzes some TV crew members about matters too profane for this review (Bennetto has surely spent her share of time in the company of inquisitive youngsters), and baffling interludes of the kind that only take place in comic novels, as a newly postpartum Emma, still abed in the delivery suite, makes awkward peace with the woman who replaced her in Ned’s affections.
The eye-catching cover of yellow, pink and blue is a duly riotous representation of what promises to be “laugh-out-loud” comedy. I smiled more than chuckled, but others’ mileage may vary, and I defy anyone to put down this book without a sigh of affection for the redoubtable Emma George.
Every week Stephanie reviews the Book of the Week.
As the Coast book reviewer, Stephanie Jones shares her thoughts each week on the latest releases.
Stephanie has a BA (Hons) in history and English literature, and a background in journalism, magazine publishing, public relations and corporate and consumer communications.
Stephanie is a contributor to the New Zealand Book Council’s ‘Talking Books’ podcast series (listen here), and a member of the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award judging panel. She can be found on Twitter @ParsingThePage.
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