Ahhh, Giovanna Fletcher. I first read one of her books (You’re the One That I Want – Review Here) late last year. I enjoyed it, but it niggled at me, and I couldn’t decide whether it was just the story itself which I wasn’t sold on, or whether Fletcher’s writing just isn’t for me. So, I gave her original debut novel a go.
I did enjoy this story, in a broad sense – enough to finish the book. I like the protagonist, Sophie May, enough to have wanted her to do what I figured was the right thing. This book didn’t bowl me over though and I don’t think I’ll be picking up Fletcher’s one other book (Dream a Little Dream) because at the end of the day, I don’t think what Fletcher wants to write into a story is what I’m seeking to get out of one.
I want to be very careful that I don’t sound rude or unfair – I know for a fact plenty of people think Giovanna Fletcher’s books are fantastic, and that’s brilliant. I do want to give an honest review of how I responded as a reader though; but to be clear, I’m aware these are my personal reactions, and I don’t mean them to be a general reflection on the quality of her writing. I mean these as a personal response, not one which I expect all readers to have.
The book follows Sophie May, who gets a job at a tea shop when leaving school for a ‘year out’, and as it happens, stays there very happily for the next eight years. That’s where we join her, after a brisk prologue and march through her life up to that point. The shop owner, Molly, takes Sophie under her wing and teaches her all she knows about making cakes, and slowly brings her out of her shell. Then one day, in walks Billy Buskin, film star extraordinaire, and the predictable romantic scenarios you’ve been taught by every chick flick you ever saw all come into play.
I was interested in the concept of this book, and the look at what it’s like to be the romantic interest of someone famous, because Giovanna Fletcher herself is married to Tom Fletcher of McFly. I didn’t find much of that though, beyond very frequently trotted out tropes of evil paparazzi and manipulative agents, the ‘Don’t Believe What You Read in the Papers’ lesson polished up and wearing a slightly different coat. Relationships that move ridiculously quickly in fiction often make me roll my eyes and sigh, unless they have some real grounding for why things are that way – and unfortunately here, I didn’t feel like those reasons were foregrounded, even to have them challenged.
For me, while I liked all of the characters, they all felt a bit two dimensional – so much characterisation was communicated with very broad strokes that I felt a lot was lacking in nuance. Perhaps these big, neon signposts pointing at what the author wants her readers to know about the story distracted me from better detail which was present and I missed it, but I didn’t get the development I was looking for – which the opening of the story had made me want. While I knew a lot about these characters, I felt like it was all because I had been told it outright, rather than being shown and introduced to their world.
Unfortunately I also found the writing itself quite clumsy. I had to fight to switch off the english-and-creative-writing-degree part of my brain which was constantly editing what I was reading, which unfortunately meant a lot of the time I was not concentrating on the story but on trying not to correct what I thought an editor should have picked up on, including Fletcher’s real proclivity for the word ‘caused’. Very little ever just happened – one thing happened and caused Sophie May to smile, the door opened and caused a cold breeze to run in. This sounds incredibly petty, but with a sentence or two structured this way on almost every open page, once I’d noticed it I couldn’t help but pick up on it every time.
Plot-wise, this book irritated me far less than You’re the One That I Want, although there were still some things which broke my immersion – why do certain stories insist on having sensible characters do such ridiculously not-sensible things? I felt that Sophie May’s ‘secret’ was a bit overplayed initially, and then underplayed once revealed after all that build-up. It irritated me that love was played off as a cure for her trauma – it even cropped up as what was making her mum cope better.
All of this makes it seem like I really didn’t enjoy the book, because everything I have to say sounds so appallingly negative. I promise I did enjoy the book on a first read – possibly more at the beginning than the end, but enough to finish it. It bookended my period of reading slightly lighter fiction, which was undoubtedly super useful to me. Unfortunately though, it wasn’t the best of the ‘light’ books that I read all together in that little cluster.
In terms of whether I would recommend it? If you want something to read specifically for the writing, then this isn’t where I would look, but for plot – absolutely.