A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger by Lucy Robinson, author of The Greatest Love Story of All Time, is a hilariously funny and gorgeously romantic story about falling in love when you least expect it. Charley Lambert has put considerable effort into achieving a perfect life. She has The Job. The Wardrobe. And The Flat. Her womanising, junk food-loving housemate Sam lowers the tone a bit but that aside, things are peachy.
Then she breaks her leg in three places, watches her unrequited love propose to someone else and – worst of all – is forced to hand over her job to her nasty deputy while she recovers. Workaholic Charley fears that she will soon go mad. Desperate for something to do, she discovers her talent for helping the lovelorn online. And then William arrives in her inbox. Within hours of his first email, her world starts to change. Helpless, she watches herself fall in love with this man and begins to realise that she’s not who she thought she was. But will she be brave enough to turn her back on her old life – all for a total stranger?
I believe I must start this review with the punchline–this book is quite fun; it just wasn’t wholly my kind of fun, and I couldn’t keep up. But I’ll get into that later–for now, back to the beginning! This story has a cute, amusing premise (it’s also a bit misleading, but whatever! Hard to accurate describe without major spoilers) and an awesome title. The fun vibe of the book is established rather quickly, with characters showcasing wit and liberal helpings of humor almost immediately. And did I mention the awesome premise? (I LOVE tales like You’ve Got Mail, Attachments, or Goodnight Tweetheart that center on that mysterious, innocent, yet profound connection. With guaranteed “awwww!”-worthy moments.)
The protagonist, Charlotte “Charley” Lambert, is delightfully neurotic, a la Bridget Jones or Becky Bloomwood. Intelligent and savvy in one sense, yet also prone to completely “missing the point” in another sense–often when it comes to love. When Charley encounters her own personal “series of unfortunate events,” its rather fun to watch her try to keep up with her own life.
Personally speaking, what I do so enjoy is a chick-lit story that weaves in an element of realism, of something identifiable and relatable in the characters and stories. A Passionate Love Affair… does have some of that, what with Charley trying to build a career for herself and make sense of her wishful (and lustful) thinking in the jumble that is her love life. Likewise, the reader gets to see some of the fragile, frayed edges of many of the cast of characters.
For me, the turnaround was perhaps getting “too much” of a good thing. It was highly entertaining to watch Charley and her wild cast of supporting characters (from her sexy and perennially-unavailable boss, to her ne’er-do-well roommate, to her sassy BFF, to her conniving, job-stealing colleague, and so on). But as the crazy plot developments piled on without end, my enjoyment slowly faltered under the weight of predictability and a series of unbelievable events (even for a chick lit). It’s like this: I’d feel bad for the person who admitted their homework was eaten by the dog. But when the homework is eaten by the dog that got hit by the car that drove off a cliff that fell on the house that caught on fire? The situation is still recognizable as tragic (whether to dramatic or comedic effect), but for me it would be difficult to remember that beneath the layers of “But really, though?”; hard to feel deep emotion when it’s being spread so broadly.
I felt the story could have been about 25% shorter, perhaps, with a number of plot points dropped. At one point, I took to listing them all, and it became difficult to keep up. Twists felt like they kept occurring just because they could, rather than as part of a buildup to a cohesive, larger purpose. It wasn’t so much that nothing really happened…it’s more that I got the impression that everything was happening. I myself lost sight of the driving force behind the novel about two-thirds through, so by the time the final climax and conclusion came around, it was hard for me to again feel reconnected to the same characters that had me in stitches early on in the novel.
I do think that someone with more patience or a more ardent love of Brit chick lit might find the book to be much more enjoyable. (I have to say that I happen to love Brit chick lit, but in this case I guess I just couldn’t keep up.) This is perhaps a good book for someone who’s already familiar with the genre. If you can pass the Becky Bloomwood test (as in, you still adore and/or can forgive her character even with her madness and many mishaps), you should give A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger a try.
. . .
Verdict: This particular title was not ultimately to the personal taste of this reviewer, but there are many elements that should make this story a hit with fans of British chick-lit, including colorful, larger-than-life characters, touching interpersonal relationships, and wild hijinks everywhere. Oh, and the sweet, sweet taste of romance!.
I give A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger 2.5 stars.
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