Bachelor Boys

Bachelor BoysBachelor Boys by Kate Saunders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a rather depressing experience with the umpteenth vampire book, I was looking for some shallow, vapid, preferably British chick lit that would hopefully keep occupied only 2 neurons of my brain.
I picked up this book, hoping that the cherries on the cover would be a sure sign of what I was looking for. And up to a certain page, it actually was kind of what I expected.

The premises were all there: we meet Cassie, an overachieving editor at a literary magazine and her boyfriend Matthew, an overachieving, controlling and boring lawyer with a balding tendency. Cassie comes from a family of academics who never showed her a crumb of affection and has spent her childhood being looked after by her family's neighbors - Phoebe, Jimmy and their two boys, Fritz and Ben.
When Cassie receives a phone call from her beloved and terminally sick surrogate mother Phoebe, asking for her help to marry off her bachelor and hopelessly gigolo boys, Cassie can only consent, though rather reluctantly - the boys are really hopeless, total slackers; no job, no money, no property... nothing. She therefore starts her quest for possible candidates, while trying to make the two slackers presentable.
Up to this point, I found the plot rather amusing but stupid. Who would seriously agree to such a deal? Maybe Cassie, but certainly not Fritz and Ben who were two total gigolos and supposed to get married within mere months.

As I settled more comfortably on my couch, letting the two neurons roam free inside my skull, everything changed. The plot developed but, most importantly, the characters came alive and literally ripped the pages of the book.
What sucked me in was the touching relationship between Phoebe and Cassie, the love between a mother and a daughter she never had and who is helping her to die. I might be extremely sensitive about this topic for personal reasons and I might be particularly sensitive to death in general, but I thought Saunders did a great job taking me through the final, bittersweet moments of life of a person who is rather comically preparing herself and those around her for death. I can't deny I shed some tears - and that is NOT what I expected from my chick lit.
A book that was meant to be shallow and banal suddenly demanded an increasing number of my neurons to properly cope with the real plot(s): love - in all its shapes, be it motherly, brotherly or between a man and a woman, death - and how it permeates every aspect of our lives because it is inevitable, yet so very natural, and friendship - because chemistry at first sight is possible but love has to go through a few, sometimes rather painful, phases to be genuine.

So the main asset of this book is certainly characterization: well developed, REAL characters presented to us by means of a cunning and unrushed narration where, chapter after chapter, they become more and more defined, we get to know them, to appreciate them in their imperfection, to identify with them. And with Cassie identify I did. There were so many things she said and thought in the book which could easily have come out of my mouth.

The snob in me registered that there were no books [in the house] except photograph albums, and no pictures. Evidently Mrs Batty [...] did not like clutter..

This is, like, the first thing I notice when I go to somebody's house: the absence or presence of books. And it IS totally snob. But this is just one example of many and I think that when an author manages to make me, reader, identify with one of the characters, it is no small conquest. It is actually what every author should keep in mind when creating a character: readers need to relate, to empathize with at least one of the protagonists; if I do not care for the hero/ine of the book, how am I motivated to go on reading?

It would have been a 5 stars for sure if not for the fact that, end in end, it HAD to have something of the chick lit: a highly predictable plot, some gender-related stereotyping, a few rather excessive sappy moments (I almost got cavities). None of these though detracts from the beauty of this book which is, obviously, so much more than I expected.

I highly recommend it if you're looking for an easy read - but one with heart, depth and very good storytelling.

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