BOOKENDS by Jane Green
How Acquired: BookCrossing
Reading Began: December 16, 2004
Completed Reading: December 21, 2004
Overall rating: Four out of ten
Recommendation to others: Only if you are a true fan of Jane Green’s style and chosen substance should you read this book. I’d redirect anyone to Helen Fielding, to Plum Sykes, maybe even to Candace Bushnell or Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, before ever recommending Jane Green’s “novels”.
Why I chose to read this book: Good marketing. The premises of Green’s books are very well-stated and enormously appealing as light chick fare… on the book jackets. Once you begin reading, it’s like discovering a hollow center to your fabulously decadent chocolate bunny. Unsatisfying and irritating.
Comments: I hesitate to judge an author by one lone work so, despite my reservations after reading Jemima J, I gave Jane Green one more chance to impress me. And for a moment during Bookends, she did impress. I was captivated for two full chapters, fully immersed in getting to know the group of friends around whom the story is built. I know now that I should have stopped at the end of Chapter Two.
It is never a good thing to base an entire book on a character to whom the reader cannot (or will not) relate, or worse yet, does not appeal. Except for a handful of moments, this is how I felt about the protagonist Cath. The entire book was in her voice, from her perspective, and unlike great chicklit heroines, her neuroses and relationship nonchalance seemed forced and contrived. I tired quickly of her insistence that she was quite happy being alone, quite uninterested in the very attractive suitor who seemed so fond of her. More than a few times I wanted to close the book and move on to a character with more gravitas. Cath just grated on my nerves.
I didn’t put the book down, despite many inclinations to do so, and wondered if this is how a professional book critic feels when she has to continue reading a book simply because a review must be written. For some reason, those first two chapters had piqued my interest in a supporting character (Portia), and the potential suitor for Cath was also appealing enough to make me want to read on. Unfortunately, all of the main characters around whom the story seemed to take place were either unappealing, overly stereotypical, or simply underdeveloped and pointless in the larger scheme. And that was a great shame.
Jane Green’s biggest errors come in her narrative voice. She uses Cath as the book’s narrator, the book’s conscience, and has the character speaking directly to the reader. This is disconcerting enough, but it is the epitome of aggravation to also have her begin a sentence, then interject her own thought process and overanalysis for six paragraphs before ending that same sentence. Frankly, that’s just too much Cath for me. Green also annoyingly refers to specific characters in exactly the same descriptive terms each time they are mentioned. I’m fairly certain that one would not continually refer to a friend’s “Rubenesque thighs” when simply saying that friend was standing nearby, especially when this friend is supposedly one of the most important people in her life. The narrative just rang false to me, again and again and again, contributing to my growing dislike of the protagonist herself.
The fatal mistake in Bookends is the story itself. What seems to begin as a character study about a group of college friends and the changes in their lives ten years after graduation, falls completely short when it becomes a rambling audio-diary of the main character and her skewed perception of the world around her. Green tried to paint a sort of Friends-like scenario, even so far as using the phrase “family of choice”, but she never succeeded in making me care about these friends. And then she threw in a heavy plot twist, a dire situation warranting enormous emotional response… in Chapter Twenty-Four… of Thirty-One. The twist is so completely overwhelming as a subject that an author cannot possibly expect to do it justice in such short order and with characters who have thus far shown no real substance. Yet Green tries it anyway, and I felt cheated. I felt that one story deserved its own novel, and even then wouldn’t have been wrapped so tidily.
I think that’s what bothers me most about this book; I did feel cheated. As if I’d wasted too many hours on something so unrewarding. And in the end, that’s much how I felt about my first foray into Jane Green’s work. Which tells me I’ll likely skip the rest.
The only reason I finished Bookends was a continual hope that one or more of the supporting characters would emerge with some substance or, at the very least, an interesting story. This never came about, but I did find a true affinity for Portia and James.
Portia was meant to be a villain in so much of the book, yet the author continually apologized for her through Cath, thus making Portia quite appealing to me. She was the only character who seemed to have any depth. And even with the achingly obvious plot device placed on her in the end, Portia still gained my acceptance and made me want to hear more of her story. And actually, made me want her to end up with the delightful James. (I’d love to see these two characters in a story all their own, having James teach Portia how to drop her façade and force the world to accept her true self.)
James was most appealing of all characters in this book. Never mind the fact that he got no real face time, and ignore the fact that he was so unfortunately smitten with Cath. James is my own ideal: a man who knows his own heart and uses every available opportunity to pursue his passions, all the while accepting that some sacrifices have to be made, and then doing that with a smile on his lips and gleam in his eye. James even dressed the part: I always imagine estate agents to be smart and slick, dressed in sharp suits with mobile phones surgically attached to their ears, and though this man is wearing a navy suit, he looks slightly wrong in it somehow, as if he’d be far more comfortable in a chunky woollen sweater and a pair of faded jeans.
… I turn around to see James the Estate Agent standing there, beaming at me, and I almost start to laugh. He is wearing exactly what I would have expected him to wear, exactly what I pictured him in the first time we met, except the sweater isn’t chunky and cableknit, but a fine grey lambswool. “Supper,” he says, gesturing to the basket with a smile and running his fingers through his hair in what can only be described as a distinctly endearing manner, because even though he doesn’t appear to be shy, something about this gesture says he is. “You’ve forgotten that I’m not really an estate agent,” he grins, resting the basket down on the floor in front of his mountain boots, which, I note, are covered with splashes of multicolored paint. “The struggling artist deep down still feels guilty about spending that much money on food,” he says with a shrug and an apologetic smile.
It is truly a shame that Jane Green didn’t choose to spend more energy on these two characters. Bookends might have been saved.
Forever feels like a long time when you’re eighteen. When you’re away from home for the first time in your life, when you forge instant friendships that are so strong they are destined, surely, to be with you until the bitter end. Chapter One (p. 1)
I like being alone. I always have. But it’s not the present that worries me. What worries me is that I’ll have to spend the next fifty years on my own, and that’s something that I really don’t want to have to think about. But in the meantime, I’m used to my own company, and I haven’t had to think about anyone else for months. Years. Chapter Seventeen (p. 212)
We talk about New York. About where she stays, what she does. I say that it is somewhere I have always wanted to go, but I am quite sure that if I went, I would never return, because my love for the city would be so strong.
“How do you know that?” she laughs.
“Because of Woody Allen and NYPD Blue,” I reply, in all seriousness. Chapter Twenty-Eight (p. 342)