Saturday, 25 May 2013

Review: Anyone But You - Jennifer Crusie

For Nina Askew, turning forty means freedom--from the ex-husband, freedom from their stuffy suburban home, freedom to focus on what she wants for a change. And what she wants is something her ex always vetoed--a puppy. A bouncy, adorable puppy. Instead she gets...Fred. 
Overweight, middle-aged, a bit smelly and obviously depressed, Fred is light-years from perky. But he does manage to put Nina in the path of Alex Moore, her gorgeous, younger-by-a-decade neighbor. 
Alex seems perfect--he's a sexy, seemingly sane, surprisingly single E.R. doctor--but the age gap convinces Nina that anyone but Alex would be better relationship material. But with every silver-haired stiff she dates, the more she suspects it's the young, dog-loving doc she wants to sit and stay.

I’ve been reading a lot of historical romances of late and I suddenly felt the desire to read a good contemporary romance to break the (self induced) monotony. In recent weeks I’ve actually been quite disappointed in some of the contemporary romance novels I’ve been picking up so I decided to reach for an old favourite by a favourite author, Anyone But You.

Jennifer Crusie is definitely one of my go-to contemporary romance authors; I find her books witty, clever and engaging. Whenever anyone tries to attack romance novels for lacking substance or style I immediately recommend they read a Crusie novel and then get back to me on that. Crusie’s novels clearly reflect her own intellect and quick wit (Crusie is a PhD and has written about the impact of gender on narrative strategies) and I don’t think anyone can claim that they are poorly written or lack substance.

Anyone But You was first published as a Harlequin/Mills & Boon novel but has since been republished following Crusie’s success. As a Mills & Boon Anyone But You is quite a short novel, about 280 pages, easily readable in an afternoon and therefore my go to as a quick pick me up.

Initially the plot might have put me off, the older women with the younger man isn’t a much (comparatively speaking) utilised plot and perhaps isn’t the best for a twenty-something to relate to. However, this was not my first Crusie novel so I trusted that I would enjoy it nevertheless.

Nina, newly turned 40 and starting her life afresh after a recent divorce, is an instantly likeable character.  Her emotional plight, defiance at turning 40 and determination to finally live life for herself are universal themes and it’s easy for anyone to sympathise with and engage with her. Alex, similarly, is dealing with the tension of tracking a life course, facing pressures to choose a career path from his successful family. The addition of Fred, Nina’s melancholy canine, is delightful. Fred clearly isn’t just a plot device within the book; his role might be to bring about the ‘meetcute’ of the characters and yet he remains in my mind as fully formed character.

Nina and Alex have an enviably, and fully realistic, repartee. Despite the brevity of the novel their relationship is not instant and is well crafted by Crusie, blossoming from a friendship rife with sexual tension to a wonderfully romantic match. The relationship isn’t without its problems, however. Nina’s insecurities about her age and Alex’s lack of confidence in his own age and ability to provide the life he feels Nina deserves are dealt with deftly; the development of their relationship is true to life and doesn’t seem forced or convenient. You can easily imagine that the characters will come across further bumps down the line, but that’s what makes their relationship feel so realistic.

The humorous situations are laugh out loud funny without being ‘out there’, the obligatory ‘dramatic’ moment that brings about a watershed of romantic tension works on me every time and I always get that little pitter-patter at the revelation of characters’ emotions.

Furthermore, despite the space restrictions in the novel we are introduced to a considerably large cast of characters non of which feel underdeveloped. Despite the succinct manner that many characters are described they are done in such a way that they do become fully formed in your imagination. This is true of all characters. For example, I can still recall the appearance of Alex in an inside out and back to front t-shirt, the tag sticking out under his chin, a description that is brief but with just enough detail for you to be able to clearly picture him in your mind. All to often characters can be over described, their every detail catalogued as to be difficult to picture - or even under developed leaving far too many holes for you to be able to accurately depict them yourself.

Obviously I might be a bit biased in my review, this really is one of my favourite novels, romance or otherwise. It's by no means perfect and might not appeal to everyone, it can be quite easy to get annoyed at the characters for failing to communicate with each other properly, the cast of characters could be overwhelming - Nina's boss and upstairs neighbour could easily be discounted. However, I do like the fact that Alex and Nina do not develop or live in isolation, that simply isn't realistic. 

I’d love to hear if any of you have read Anyone But You, or if you are now tempted to do so, and if you are similarly enamoured of it as I am. Let me know in the comments below and look out for some future reviews of my favourite romance novels (invariably including a few more of Crusie’s).

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