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Monday, October 5, 2015

'Don’t Get Me Wrong' by Marianne Kavanagh

Received via NetGalley

From the BLURB:

For fans of Jojo Moyes, David Nicholls and Sophie Kinsella, here is a Pride and Prejudice for the modern era.

Londoners Kim and Harry can’t see eye to eye…until the life of the person they both love most hangs in the balance. 

Kim has never grasped what her free-spirited big sister Eva sees in a stuck-up banker like Harry and has spent her childhood trying to keep him out, while Harry’s favourite occupation is winding Kim up.

Both Harry and Kim are too trapped in their prejudices to care about what’s really going on beneath the surface of each other’s lives. They’ll never understand each other—until the worst of all tragedy strikes.

Faced with the possibility of losing the person they both love most, long-buried secrets come to a head in ways that will change both Harry and Kim forever.

‘Don't Get Me Wrong’ is the new women’s-fiction novel by British author Marianne Kavanagh.

I thought I would love this book and I really, really didn’t. It’s actually one of the harder-slogs I’ve read through this year, if not the hardest. I definitely should have DNF’ed this book, but for the frustratingly inaccurate tagline that promised this book was ‘for fans of Jojo Moyes, David Nicholls and Sophie Kinsella, here is a Pride and Prejudice for the modern era’ – that gave me a ridiculously false sense of hope that I clung to throughout the read, and became yet another reason I was so frustrated with the book.

The book is told in third-person, but follows Kim – an idealistic “greenie” whose first job out of college is in working for a charity – and our other protagonist is Harry, a London banker who rubs Kim the exact wrong way. They’re not friends, but they have one person in common – Kim’s sister Eva, who is Harry’s best friend and possibly something even more complicated … Kim can’t stand Harry, but when tragedy strikes she may have to set her prejudices aside and start seeing him in a different light.

There have been so many straight-up Jane Austen adaptations and in particular, modernisations that saying something is “a Pride and Prejudice for the modern era” is tricky. ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ actually has next to nothing to do with P&P apart from that over-zealous tagline, and an adversarial relationship that’s got the slightest whiff of Mr. Darcy and Lizzie’s complicated misunderstandings. But making a call that this book is “a Pride and Prejudice for the modern era” has kind of shot it in the foot because, like I said, readers nowadays are so accustomed to that gimmick of modernising that most beloved romance … I’ve actually noted that most of the negative reviews for ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ are complaining about things like; “did zero justice to one Elizabeth Bennett” and specifically calling it out as a bad retelling. It’s not a bad retelling because it’s not a P&P retelling. Not that I think Jane Austen can wholly claim the trope of judging someone before you’ve properly got to know them, but that’s all that ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ has tenuously in common … unless you also want to try and stretch Kim and Eva to being a riff on Jane and Elizabeth, which I don’t think they were.

So – first complaint out of the gate is the murky assumptions lots of readers will go into this book with, only because marketing has tried to throw just about every target-audience trigger at it that Kavanagh just doesn’t live up to …

I kinda get the Jojo Moyes and David Nicholls tagline reference too – but Kavanagh just isn’t as good or charming a writer as those two. I’m sorry, she’s just not. For one thing, Moyes and Nicholls know how to intersect weighty social commentary with addictive, romantic subplots – and they do that very well. Kavanagh’s attempts in ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ are clunky … I mean; a socialist-idealist and a London banker? Really? Especially when part of the book is set in the Global Financial Crisis of 07-08? Urgh.

Kavanagh’s third-person narrative is also hard to get through. There’s little finesse, especially in timeline-transitions. On more than one occasion I was pulled up short trying to figure out how the characters went from anticipating an event in one paragraph, to rehashing how it all played out in another. It even took me a couple of pages to realise that at one point, Harry had actually moved from London to Manhattan because following those timeline-leaps is just a headache. 

She’s also quite fond of rambling thoughts – or, rather, letting characters express rambling thoughts that just come out of nowhere and left me scratching my head. Like this monologue on why people only ever laugh awkwardly when female comics do sex-stuff in their stand-up: 

So sex gets a laugh because it’s like food – enjoyable, but with negative side effects. Like going out for a curry. You pile everything in, chew it, swallow it, sit there belching, burping and farting, and finally end up on the toilet. Overall, as an experience, you might rate it at ninety per cent, but not because of the gassy parts.

Her similes are also awful, and there are an awful lot of them. Like this one, in which she compares a toddler to an elderly colonel; 
 He seemed to experience the world as interesting but excessive. Loud noises, extreme weather and extravagant displays of affection all made him frown, like an elderly colonel who catches sight of a young woman in a very short skirt and isn’t sure whether to complain or applaud.
The similes are especially painful when they try to be profound. She’d have been better off just writing; ‘it was like this thing that I’m trying to express and whatever the opposite of that thing is’. Instead we get;

He took in her short blonde hair, her fine cheekbones, her determined chin, and it was like looking at a photograph of someone he didn’t know. It was like being presented with evidence of something that was obvious but that he’d always chosen to ignore.

Clunky prose style is the main problem with this book, or at least it was for me. I don’t know if it was third-person that she struggled with, but there was no eloquence or spark on the page. She’s no Jojo Moyes, David Nicholls or Jane Austen, that’s for sure;

‘Don’t you remember? I’m the rich banker. The one who pays.’ 
Oh, she thought wearily. So we’re back here again. She had a picture in her mind of a soldier in filthy battle dress bending down to pick up his gun.

And the characters are all pretty awful and one-dimensional. The author is so determined to hit home this ‘judging people before you get to know them’ concept that Kim has no flexibility throughout the book, she remains determinedly awful for her insistence on misjudging Harry …. and Harry, well – did I mention he’s a banker during the global financial crisis? Yeah – and pretty cardboard to boot. Eva was likewise a non-character for being a caricature hippie; a waifish free-spirit.

I did not like this book.


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