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Tom is a ghost-writer, ready to step into the shoes of and give his voice to anybody from an adventure sailor to self-employed single mother. An Englishman in Edinburgh, he lives with his good-natured, sexy girlfriend Sara. He doesn't hanker after fame, but when the opportunity comes to ghost an autobiography of a big soap star, Georgina Nye, he starts looking forward to the big fee (and the prospect of new carpets in the house). Perhaps not unexpectedly, he finds himself falling into lust (or is it love?) with the gorgeous George, and thus puts his regular relationship (as well as that fee) in jeopardy.
"Certain Chemistry" is one of the funniest books I have read in quite a while: a proper laugh-out-funny, not "subtly scathing intellectual satire" funny. The first half (before the affair starts) is much better, comedy-wise, while the second is more of a tender satire on the chemical vagaries of human desire.
The plot itself is pretty run of the mill, though the novel is surprisingly multi-stranded, with a nice satire on publishing industry hidden amongst the sexual indiscretions.
The beauty of Millington's book lies in its inimitable mixture of pin-sharp and gloriously adolescent humour. I enjoy reading chick-lit as much or more than its male version, but I am yet to find a female writer of modern cheeky romantic farce who will make me laugh as much as the male writers do (although Jenny Colgan and Serena Mackesy at their best come pretty close). It's possible that male peccadilloes and peculiarities are simply inherently funnier (it's hard to imagine even remotely realistic scene involving a naked woman sitting at her computer in the middle of the day, Internet up-skirt picture of a celebrity, a printed one of the same celebrity in a swimming costume, un-squashable erection, an unpleasant encounter with overheating vent of a laptop, a phone call from the celebrity in question and the girlfriend at the door). Or maybe the stronger vein of cynicism in the male writers makes for a better comedy.
Regardless of reasons, I have snorted, giggled and guffawed my way through "Certain Chemistry" in the manner unheard of since Mat Beaumont's e and the better O'Farrells.
"Certain Chemistry" of the title refers to the molecular nature of sexual attraction, and the whole novel is a sharp comedy of desire. The story narrated by Tom is interspersed with explanatory interludes from God (sounding like a comedy Mafia don).
Sexual peccadilloes lend themselves naturally to satire (and farce) and there is plenty of situation comedy of embarrassment in "Certain Chemistry". It also abounds with clever one-liners and characters drawn in a ruthless, but not entirely mercilessly manner. What I liked best, though, is the dialogue: between the characters, between Tom and his reader, between Tom and well, Tom.
The text is almost uniformly brilliant, incisive, hilarious and rude. Millington has a great sense for the ridiculous, particularly in human relationships, as evidenced by his original column and book "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About".
The whole subject of infidelity and sexual jealousy leaves me rather cold as I am neither prone to uncontrollable attacks of guilt-inducing lust nor particularly jealousy or terrified of being cheated on. I do like the way "Certain Chemistry" highlights the inherent ludicrousness of of human (and especially male) desire while at the same time maintaining a rather kindly, humane understanding.
The unruly nature of sexual attraction might be more of a male then female problem, and Tom is, of course, a pathetically sad case, but - in one way or another - aren't we all?