Review: Single in the City by Michele Gorman

single in the city michele gorman Review: Single in the City by Michele Gorman

Michele Gorman's debut'Single in the City (previously released as'The Expat Diaries) opens with a scene very familiar to me: the fateful ordering of a salad sandwich in Britain. Used to leafy monstrosities full of vegetably goodness bursting from thick wedges of dark rye, I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed at finding that in Oxford, three pounds (not a trifling amount when you've exchanged from Aussie dollars) buys two wilted pieces of white bread, two dried-out circles of cucumber possibly taken from the missus's nightly eye mask, and a lank bit of lettuce (and, fortunately, sandwich pickles, the only thing redeeming my tragic meal). No wonder the guy behind the seemed to appraise me for an eating disorder before adding rather doubtfully, 'is that all?'

Given the fact that Australia is a fairly recent offshoot of the ol' Mother Country, that we too speak a non-rhotic variety of English (except those of us who have watched too much American TV), and that we're exposed to all manner of Britishisms thanks to parents obsessed with quality television programming such as'Keeping up Appearances,'The Bill, and'Heartbeat, I rather thought that I'd slot right in to British life. Unfortunately, it seems that British English and Australian English are not actually dialects of the same language: it turns out that they're not at all mutually comprehensible. And weirdly, language barriers aside, things were similar enough that the differences seemed all the more noticeable, sort of like being thrust into an alternate dimension where everything is the same except that it rains doughnuts in the mornings. Still, my slight communication issues and general gaucheness were far less of an issue than those of Hannah Cummings, who has clearly not seen an episode of BBC TV in her life (not even Super Ted, it turns out!).

Like many major events in Hannah's life, her arrival in London is largely attributable to a drunken whim. Having been recently sacked from her middling role as a junior PR exec (it's cheaper and more effective to outsource such roles to India, we're told, and, well, given the combination of Hannah's dubious job skills and her liking of designer clothing, it's rather hard to debate this), Hannah finds herself lost in the angsty throes of a quarter life crisis, the answer to which, of course, is a fresh start. And her move to London is about as fresh as it can get: she arrives homeless, friendless, and work permit-less. But fortunately, Hannah is no retiring wallflower, and within mere hours she has unnerved all manner of polite Brits by making eye contact on public transport, attempting to pay for small items with large notes, and walking on the wrong side of the footpath (or 'sidewalk', in Hannah terminology). That same night, apparently frustrated by how long it seems to be taking her to integrate into English culture, Hannah seeks out something quintessentially British: the local pub. It's fair to say that she has rather more luck here than she does in situations where sobriety is the preferable state of mind, and it's not long before she's raising eyebrows amongst the hotel staff with her rather forward (American?) behaviour.

With one important cultural divide bridged, Hannah decides it's quite possibly time to engage in other adult (ahem) activities, such as the slightly less eyebrow-raising tasks of getting a job and finding somewhere to live. Needless to say, both of these are rather more fraught than they first seem, and after a while, Hannah resigns herself to living with some unintelligible Australians (also known as Or-STRAY-uns) and to taking up a position working for the very man who, after several pints of strong beer, helped her bring America and Britain that little bit closer together. Unfortunately, the role is not quite what Hannah had mindand neither is the man. But while she can deal with the work situation, a boyfriendless life is not for Hannah, and this needs to be rectified immediately. Fortunately, wily Hannah's strong suit is hunting (both men and ducks, as it turns out), and there's no shortage of hilarious situations that ensue as she doggedly searches for Mr Right, committing perhaps every faux pas in the book as she attempts to understand the subtle nuances of British culture and the not so subtle nuances of men.

Single in the City is a fun and sardonic read, and humorous situations and witty repartee abound within its pages. I must say that Im glad that Hannah's humour doesn't devolve into snark: despite the truly bizarre situations in which she continually finds herself, she instead tends to poke fun at herself and pick herself up and carry on (sometimes quite literally, such as in the case of an unfortunate bicycle incident). However, there are times when the humour does seem a little forced, particularly when it comes to Hannah's constant misunderstanding of Britishisms, which, while often amusing, does bridle after a while. Some of the dialogue, too, borders on too witty, particularly in the early parts of the book, although this evens out after a while. A slightly less successful attempt at humour is the series of footnotes designed to explain certain American phrases or items that the reader is unlikely to understand. While a few of these are gems, mostly they tend to distract from the narrative and tell the reader things we already know. (I may never have seen Cheez Doodles in person, but given the inescapable ubiquity of American culture, I have a pretty fair idea of what they're like, and that I'll certainly avoid them if ever I am to meet them.)

Its a combination of the rich humour and Hannah's social largesse that largely carry the novel, as the plot is fairly slight and not especially complex. If you have a love of situational humour, you'll probably find yourself clutching this book to your chest as you rub your aching stomach muscles. Still, while I'm willing generally to let plot slide (I've read enough literary novels in my life to know that plot is something that can be happily done away with), there are some things that didnt quite work for me hereHannahs sudden promulgation of love to her Mr Right is a slightly whiplash-inducing reversal, as while this character is present throughout the book, Hannah has scarcely given him a second (and strictly platonic) glance during any of their earlier meetings. It seems odd that she should suddenly declare him her One and Truly with little in the way to preface this. Moreover, while Hannahs romantic escapades are entertaining, after watching her chase random men for a few hundred pages, its rather difficult not to feel frustrated by her neediness (and, increasingly, her rather painful ditzinessat times shes about as useful as Bella from Twilight, although admittedly she does have better taste in men). Another plot issue is the fairly abrupt ending that doesnt quite feel layered on to the rest of the narrative.

However, Gorman brings in a wonderful set of secondary characters to balance any frustrations that might be had with Hannah. While some of them border on caricatures, this isnt too much of an issue in a book whose success hinges so firmly on its comedic appeal. Gorman draws some delightful characters in Hannahs Australian flatmates (although as an Aussie, I do take issue with their Crocodile Dundee-esque accents), her frosty boss, and her oversharing friend Stacy, who regales the household nightly with stories of her latest exploits over the answering machine. Moreover, although its true that some of the comparisons between British and American culture are hammered home with all of the subtlety of a mallet pounding a steak, there are a good deal of these that are absolutely spot on, and I found myself reading sections aloud to my long-suffering boyfriend, something which is (luckily for him) a rare treat indeed. If you like your chicklit light, fluffy, and self-deprecating, and you can deal with a heroine who is scarcely able to tie her shoes but is not above a bit of crafty blackmail, youll find a lot to like here.

Rating: ?????

Purchase Single in the City:'US/Aus or UK

With thanks to Penguin UK for the review copy

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