(SPOILERS: FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH)
Looks like, feels like, is it? Chick lit, that is. Toni Jordan’s first novel Addition has all the hallmarks of chick lit. The cover design with its line drawing of a female form invokes chick lit – albeit chick lit with an edge as the heels aren’t quite high enough and the colours not quite girly enough. The plot though is pure rom com and pretty much standard chick-lit: girl meets boy, girl loses (kicks out) boy, girl gets boy back. So why has this book garnered more attention and positive critical response than its sisters?
Well, Jordan is no Jane Austen (who is sometimes called the mother of chick lit) but she has produced something a little fresh. Her heroine, Grace, is not quite the standard chick lit heroine. She has had a breakdown, she is not in employment, she is not upwardly mobile and she is not focused on fashion and appearance (though it has to be said that she’s not oblivious to these latter either). Instead, she’s an ex-primary school teacher (not the most fashionable career, anyhow, in the world of chick lit) and she suffers from an obsessive compulsive disorder that results in her need to count, anything and everything, in order to maintain control over her life. And her hero, Seamus, a happy, ordinary dresser in an ordinary go-nowhere job, is “average”. Fortunately, though, with the help of her smart young niece, Grace realises at the end “that average can actually be unique”.
Grace’s voice is chick-lit-sassy and the book is genuinely funny a lot of the time, but there are also times when it is forced and tips over into being smart-alecky, such as her reactions to the psychiatrist and therapist. Her other hero is Nikola Tesla, the not-properly recognised famous inventor of many things electrical, who also had an obsessive compulsive disorder relating to numbers. It is the presence of Nikola in Grace’s life which sustains her at the beginning, helps ground her at the end and gives the book its real hook – that is, that being different is to be cherished and encouraged, as long as it doesn’t drag you down.
Jordan has a nice flair for language too. I liked the change in tone and pace when Grace’s panic rises, and a similar change in Jill’s speech to Grace when they are in hospital discussing their mother’s future. She’s lightly ironic in places and includes the odd bit of wordplay. It will be interesting to see where she goes next.
In addition (excusez-moi!) to its trying sometimes to be a bit too funny and its somewhat preachy ending (“Listen … Life is ..”), the book’s main problem is it’s too close adherence to the formula. You know she is going to lose him and you know she is going to get him back. It’s just a matter of how. Some level this same criticism at that favourite author of mine, Jane Austen, but her books encompass way more than plot to say some fundamental things about the human condition. I can read her again and again and see something new, or take away another perspective. I can’t see anything in Addition, as delightful as it is, that would afford me that pleasure on multiple readings.
So, read it, enjoy it – as I did – but if you want something a little more sustaining, try Jane.