the one you really want

Some books are comforting diversions from reality.

Recently I spotted Jill Mansell’s ‘The One You Really Want’ on my ereader and remembered that I used to enjoy her books sufficiently to have purchased several. Despite this not featuring on my current TBR list, it jumped to the top of my Actually Reading list due to its easy-read format.

What’s it about?

Finding love. When Christmas arrives, Nancy is stunned to receive a ride-on lawnmower from her husband. After all, if that’s her gift, who got the expensive jewellery she knows he’s been buying? I think we can all guess the answer to that.

Soon Nancy’s on her way to London to stay with long-term friend Carmen, who has a gorgeous new neighbour, Connor. Unfortunately for Nancy, Connor already has a fit girlfriend; fortunately (?!) his teenage daughter, Mia, hates Cyanide Sadie and thinks Nancy would make a much better partner. If only Connor agreed.

Meanwhile, Carmen is finally moving out of the fug of widowhood after meeting handsome plumber Joe. But is he being completely honest with her? And why does her brother-in-law Rennie care so much about her dating again?

What’s it like?

Classic chick-lit: this story basically involves upper middle class women encountering a few seemingly pleasant men who turn out to be rakes and ending up getting together with genuinely nice men who initially appeared to be rakes. Most women are very similar – they might have different jobs but they mostly like shopping and chatting to other women about their love life – but there are one or two bitches we’re meant to dislike and who will ultimately lose out.

This story basically involves upper middle class women encountering a few seemingly pleasant men who turn out to be rakes and ending up getting together with genuinely nice men who initially appeared to be rakes.

It’s the kind of novel in which every character with a significant part to play will be given a happy ending, be they under twenty or over sixty (unless, of course, they are one of the rakes or bitches, in which case they’ll just end up sad and alone). Speaking of characters, Nancy and Carmen share top billing but other female characters are also given a share of the spotlight so the third person narration regularly shifts focus to follow their differing dilemmas. This is smoothly handled and you’re never disappointed to leave one character to find out what is happening to another. Plot lines are easy to guess and if you spent a few moments thinking about it you could probably plot out the whole novel from about a third of the way through.

This is all sounding rather critical, but really it just makes it easy reading: this is a novel you’ll read on a beach to relax – or maybe on your mobile phone in a darkened room while rocking a sobbing baby to sleep… Either way, you won’t necessarily need to give it your full attention to enjoy it and it’s a pretty good example of the genre.

Will I like it?

Mmm. Depends how you feel about the stereotypical portrayal of male-female relationships in contemporary fiction. My minor quibbles include:

– the way unhappy marriages disintegrates in, basically, seconds and, after a few minor concerns, characters just move on, relieved and freed to love again (surely real life isn’t like this? Though I suppose if you’re in an unhappy marriage, maybe it is…and of course, this is feelgood fiction, not a memoir;)

You’ve always got to kiss a frog or two first, put in the leg work, then hope to find a bloke nice enough to stop sleeping with everyone else long enough to realise that you’re The One. Because that will change him.

– similarly, the way characters fall head-over-heels in love in seconds (though this is definitely a typical feature of the genre so perhaps not a reasonable quibble!)
– the way that male characters repeatedly sleep with at least one of their partners throughout the book but the female characters are only allowed flirtations and groping until they meet The One (although…see point in brackets above;)
– the fact that one major male character blames women for being too emotionally and sexually available to allow him sufficient time and opportunity to get to love them. (Um, okay, nothing to do with the shallow man who’s happy enough to boink them and move on then? Nope? All the women’s fault. Right. And that’s okay because he’ll be redeemed by loving the one woman who hasn’t let him boink her. Yet. So, remember ladies, if you put out ‘too soon’ he’ll never respect you. Not that ‘too soon’ has any kind of useful definition, even if you were prepared to abide by such gendered dating divisions, but never forget that those are The Rules.*)

Final thoughts

If you like nothing-too-serious-happens, everything-ends-well chick lit then you’ll likely enjoy this, especially if you’ve previously enjoyed reading any of Jill Mansell’s other books. From what I remember, this is very similar in content, style and focus.

Just remember: the one you really want won’t ever be the one you initially think it is. You’ve always got to kiss a frog or two first, put in the leg work, then hope to find a bloke nice enough to stop sleeping with everyone else long enough to realise that you’re The One. Because that will change him. Simple.

‘The One You Really Want’
Jill Mansell
Headline Review, 2004, ebook

* Harmless fictional fun or potentially damaging instruction manual for dating? You decide.