I had a supremely shitty day last Friday – a work deadline which I couldn’t meet because of a sudden message on my computer telling me my hard drive was about to pack up shop, combined with a call from my daughter’s school asking me to pick her up early because she’d fallen and hit her head*.
So I needed something very light to read. Very, very light. A de-stressor if you will. And India Knight was up to the task with My Life on a Plate. It’s pure chick-lit fluff so if you really don’t like chick-lit, turn away now.
It’s the story of Clare Hutt (known to herself as Jabba the), who has put her single days very much behind her, has ‘Got Her Man’, had two kids and is enjoying life as a Smug Married (to borrow a phrase from Bridget Jones).
“The best way I can think of describing myself is: we’re not talking control pants yet, but we’re not going to pretend that they haven’t struck us as being a pretty damned handy kind of garment either.”
I liked Clara from the beginning, not just for her thoughts on control pants but because of this –
“I feel so tired sometimes, after the school run, even though it’s only 9 a.m.”
Yes. Just yes. And then this –
“How can I be friends with a woman who snacks on kiwis, for God’s sake?”
There are punchlines aplenty – not quite as extreme as an author such as Kathy Lette but I’m sure you won’t miss the funny bits. The first couple of chapters are a little too in-your-face but Knight soon settles into a more ‘readable’ pace – entertaining, sparkly characters, and a plot that actually creeps up on you.
“Robert is flicking between CNN and MTV, as men of his age tend to do. Am I young or old? they ask themselves with each press of the button. Am I still fun, or the kind of person who writes letters to newspapers?… Flick, flick. Woah, baby. Flick. Oh good, the FTSE.”
“The trainers make me look absurd. There’s nothing worse than a size 16 woman pretending she’s on her way to the gym all the time; it’s like having a tattoo on one’s forehead saying ‘I’m seriously delusional.'”
I particularly note the strong plot because while I had my suspicions on the direction things might go, I didn’t really know (and as it turns out, I was wrong anyway). I generally find with chick-lit, you can guess the whole plot, including the ending, by reading the jacket blurb. There’s nothing wrong with a ‘formula’ if it’s well written and entertaining. Thankfully Knight writes well, is very funny and, for bonus marks, doesn’t follow the chick-lit formula.
There’s one writing technique (prevalent in chick-lit) that I have a love/hate relationship with. It’s the Put Something In Capitol Letters To Make It Funny stunt. I love it (sometimes) because it works (sometimes). But I’m also thinking it’s time we moved on. In fairness to Knight, My Life on a Plate, with all of its mid-sentence capitalisations, was written in 2001 when the technique was still Fresh and Quirky. Examples –
“I am Last Season Woman.”
“We used to suffer from Competitive Tiredness Syndrome…”
“Not just any old man, she explains, but The Man.”
4/5 If I’m going to read chick-lit it has to either be very funny or dramatic (romance is not my scene). And although I usually prefer a drier brand of humour, My Life on a Plate is done very well. It’s not in the same league as Bridget Jones or I Don’t Know How She Does It but it was a more than satisfactory end to what would otherwise have been a horrible day.
What to pair this book with? Clara certainly likes tasty snacks but I did love her mention of a particular lunch –
“Lunch is very civilized and almost calorie-free: ice-cold white wine and oysters, and a bracing sorbet for pudding. I feel rather Parisienne, with my lunch-time régime.”
So, oysters it is. There was a time when I was not such a big fan of oysters au naturel. That has changed but for the sake of a recipe, try Rampant Cuisine’s Oysters Rockefeller.
*Daughter’s head fine, computer rooted.