I'M A fan of chicklit. The best examples make for easy yet emotional reading, with creative plots and a range of believable, endearing characters in search of happiness.
The braver ones explore darker themes such as loss or addiction, have tragic or unexpected twists . . . but are lifted by humour and eccentricity.
Claudia Carroll's eighth novel, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, does tick some of those boxes. And in such a well-trodden genre it's understandably tough to keep coming up with original, fresh material.
I have happily given favourable reviews to Irish authors including Cathy Kelly, Kate Kerrigan, Marian Keyes, Maeve Binchy and Denise Deegan, with particular plaudits for newcomer-at-the-time Sinead Moriarty. With regret, I can't place Carroll's latest effort anywhere near them.
On the plus side, her writing has an appealing conversational tone -- but the basic polish required to shape it into a novel of note has not been applied.
Boarding-school sweethearts Annie Cole and Dan Ferguson have lost their way in wedlock -- mostly due to workaholic Dan being The Nicest Man in the World and trying to please an ultra-demanding entourage which includes his neurotic mother, Audrey, and two-faced Lisa Ledbetter, who has gold-digging eyes for Dan.
Annie and Dan were doing fine in Dublin until Dan Senior died, leaving a void in the family's vet practice in the Co Waterford backwater of Stickens.
Dutiful Dan stepped down to the mark, becoming bottomless provider for scatty sister Jules and awful Audrey. Now, after years of coming last on her husband's long list of commitments, actress-in-the-wings Annie can grit her teeth no longer.
Cue an unexpected role in comedy-drama Wedding Belles, a play set in a health spa during a hen weekend. The problem is that, after a test-run in Dublin, it's going across the pond to Broadway . . . for 12 months.
When Dan doesn't make opening night in the Big Apple, the troubled couple scrap their farcical long-distance relationship and embark upon a fingers-crossed no-strings gap year.
By basing the novel in the acting world, Carroll is sensibly drawing on her years playing Nicola Prendergast in Fair City. The cast of Wedding Belles allows for lots of characters, including bargain-hunting Blythe, the Mammy figure, and control freak Chris, with her inane self-help books.
The edgiest of these is Liz Shields, Annie's talented pal who's hell-bent on self-sabotage. Close behind is wolfish producer Jack Gordon, clinical in his pursuit of naive Annie.
Although Liz's troubles spawn a decent aside and predator Jack is suitably chilling, the other characters remain underdeveloped -- extras to Annie's eternal one-track dilemma.
To remind myself of Carroll's capabilities, I reread The Last of the Great Romantics (Bantam Press). Her hilarious second novel buzzes with plot strands and is hugely entertaining. It could have benefitted from minor spots of cosmetic surgery, but there's no comparison between it and her current offering.
I also had great difficulty with Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? several times on the grounds of taste -- in particular when Annie's Washington-based mother scolds her lovesick daughter for being holed up in her apartment "like Anne Frank". The crudeness of the actual sentiment aside, this character is a twinset-and-pearls career diplomat and would never have made such an ill-judged comment.
While this book displays engaging pace and the rewind button to fill in the blanks in Annie's story is deftly employed, Carroll needs to resolve some fundamental problems with her writing (and the way in which it is edited) before she can impress this reviewer once more.
Unfortunately, the overwritten Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? reads much more like a draft manuscript than the acceptable finished product it could have been -- and the intelligent, optimistic fans of chicklit so richly deserve.
Sunday Indo Living