Sunday, July 1, 2007

Alphabet Weekends

Alphabet Weekends: Love on the Road from A to Z
By Elizabeth Noble
Harper Collins Publishers
Reviewed by Jodie

In Alphabet Weekends, Elizabeth Noble utilises her ability to conceive loveable and unusual plot conceits. Natalie has been dumped by her surgical boyfriend of seven years and is in need of some comfort, possibly of the Southern variety. Luckily, Natalie doesn’t have to resort to the lonely bottle much as she has an engaging and inventive best friend, Tom, who offers to distract her by way of an adventurous game. Working through the alphabet they will each chose an activity every other weekend in an effort to see if there might be something romantic between them. Tom begins with A for abseiling and Natalie follows with B for ballet, which ends prematurely as her sister goes into labour. Many of the activities follow this pattern of not going well, most notably H for hotel and E for equine, but there are some shining successes, such as P for Paris and V for Vegas. The friends learn new things about each other and their relationship is enhanced by their time together.

Noble likes to deal with tough issues while still promising the reader at least one happy ending. In The Tenko Club her subject matter included obsessive jealousy, parental estrangement and feelings of worthlessness. In Alphabet Weekends she includes adultery, lack lustre love and illness in her subplots. Natalie’s mother is depressed and Tom’s sister in law, Lucy, is drawn to another man. These are big issues that deny the categorisation of chick-lit and mean that Noble’s book must be labelled under the more respectful heading of women’s fiction.
Noble is also a realistic writer. When Natalie’s ex-boyfriend reappears there is no shying away from the fact that people are often active participants in what they will later weakly call "mistakes":

…she was going to tell Simon to his face that it was over between them, and not to call her again. And then she shaved her legs.’

So many romantic comedy novels rely on a moment of comic misunderstanding to heighten the tension. At the moment the heroine has binned the bad guy her new love interest catches them in a compromising, yet innocent situation which has to be explained before they can get together. Noble shows an awareness that fictional characters need to reflect real people in order to engage the reader. In real life, moments of astounding misunderstanding are few but Noble’s writing shows that she feels a lack of convenient plot devices does not stop life or love from being interesting.

Elizabeth Noble is a writer for those who want something extra to the usual romantic plot structure but also want this familiar element to their reading. She is a writer who understands that strong characters don’t have to be caricatures and that realistic characters don’t have to be negative. Alphabet Weekends is a wonderful place to start with her three novels as her catchy plot device is more fully realised than her idea in The Tenko Club.

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