Print Edition: October 24, 2012
The story is pretty simple in Cecelia Ahern’s latest pink-clad novel The Time of my Life. Girl’s life is a mess, girl gets incessant invitations to meet someone. Girl meets guy. Guy changes girl’s life because guy is girl’s life. Wait, what?
The girl is protagonist Lucy Silchester, an average girl in modern day Dublin whose average life matches the kind of post-modern angst seen in most depictions of urban living. She works in a job she mostly hates and only got because she lied on her C.V. She pines after her ex-boyfriend who is a TV star traveling the world. She lives in a tiny, messy studio apartment with a cat and she tends to fib her way into a good time with friends even though she often ditches them early.
This is her life. Except her life is also a real person from something called the Life Agency.
Her Life, who for whatever reason is a man, reacts physically to whatever decisions she’s making in her life. When she makes poor decisions like neglecting her own emotional well-being or putting herself in situations where the only outcome is regret, her Life reacts with mountain-sized chin pimples, bad B.O. and clammy palms.
What could, with other authors, be the basis of a science-fiction-esque world where people live in the same world as the human versions of their own lives is, to Cecelia Ahern, the perfect chick-lit starting point. Ahern previously wrote the novel-turned-movie P.S. I Love You, so she’s an author well-versed in the unspoken rules of pink-covered novels.
The whole boy-meets-girl thing doesn’t really work and the idea that when girl-meets-boy her life magically all falls into place also doesn’t work. Readers enjoy escaping into the ups and downs of a fictional character’s life, certainly, but they don’t want it to be so monotonous they give up reading within the first chapter and toss it aside onto a growing pile of paperbacks.
As much as I appreciate Ahern’s attempt to switch up the formula, I feel that the way she pats herself on the back for doing so within the novel’s dialogue itself, undermines some of her success. At one point, Lucy tells Life that her story should end with her own satisfaction and not with the satisfaction she gets from a man. That’s great, but if that sentiment is written down so explicitly, it seems less true.
Even though Ahern broke what I consider to be a cardinal rule in chick-lit—don’t tell the audience why you changed the romantic narrative formula—she was able to remain interesting enough for me to finish the novel in a matter of days and come out the other end of it vaguely entertained.
Certainly her main character would be an unbearable human pity party in real life and the way she meets a handsome guy through a wrong number turned carpet cleaning appointment is laughable at best, but I’m a sucker for a cute story.
Plus there’s something to the idea that those moments when people say, “Ach, life!” would be about an actual human being whose job it is to monitor the good and bad of your daily decisions with the possibility of an intervention. It had a very George Bailey vibe to it that I found intriguing enough to push me through the many suspensions of disbelief.