Having enjoyed Allison Pearson's debut novel 'I Don't Know How She Does It', I was pleased to win a copy of her second novel, 'I Think I Love You.'
'I Think I Love You' is split into two distinct parts, with the first section set in the 1970's introducing the main character, Petra, as a thirteen year old innocent Welsh girl, dealing with typical teenage angst, friendships, a strict German mother and a massive crush on David Cassidy. The second half of the story shows Petra as an adult and mother of a teenager herself when, following two significant losses, she has the opportunity to reflect back on her teenage years and finally has the opportunity to meet her childhood idol.
I actually received this book back when it was first released in 2011 and it really has sat on my bookshelf since then. In all honesty, I did start to read it enthusiastically when it first arrived but found that the opening chapters just didn't really grip me at all and it was only recently when I made a concerted effort to re-read this novel.
Sadly, the word 'effort' is all too accurate a description of my reading experience as I found the first half, reading about Petra's teenage experiences, pretty tough going. As much as I could relate to Petra's anxieties about fitting in with the 'in crowd' and those first innocent moments of childhood flirting and fantasising about celebrities, this book was far too obsessed with David Cassidy. I'm in my mid-thirties and the whole David Cassidy/Partridge Family thing was well before my time so I really struggled to identify with Petra's obsession, particularly as there were so many details included, such as song lyrics and descriptions of David's outfits and long winded references to magazine articles.
The monotony of listening to Petra's teenage longing is only broken by the experiences of Bill - a young graduate who is employed as a writer on the 'David Cassidy Magazine' - Petra's bible. Bill is no Cassidy fan and loathes his office job, particularly the lies that he has to invent to convince his naive young readership that the random drivel he is publishing is straight from the mouth of David Cassidy. Personally, I think one of the most boring things to read about is listening to somebody else's bad day in the office and Bill doesn't particularly resonate with me as a character that I'd like to know in real life or have any interest in whatsoever.
The postscript from the author indicates that this is based on her own experiences in her childhood and, unfortunately, this really shows through the writing. I could imagine that this would be entertaining to somebody who had shared a similar experience during their own teenage years but to the majority of readers, especially those under forty, I would expect them to be similarly bored with the whole David Cassidy thing. I'm still not entirely sure who David Cassidy is - I didn't recognise any of the lyrics and I don't think I would recognise him if he walked past me on the street! In all honesty, I found the first half incredibly dull, tedious and mind numbing. It took me several weeks to read the entire story as I could only manage a chapter each night before practically falling asleep so this is definitely recommended as a cure for insommnia.
The second half of the novel does see a slight improvement and, although the ultimate ending is glaringly obvious, I did start to warm slightly more to Petra as an adult, particularly around her career and role as a wife and mother. Unfortunately, the underlying Cassidy theme continued to bore me and Bill did not appear to have matured or become any more likeable in adult life.
I was really disappointed with this book and I suspect many other readers, especially those who loved Pearson's debut novel will be equally disappointed. I can only really recommend this book to people experiencing trouble sleeping or those die-hard David Cassidy fans who have spent years dreaming about the possibility of meeting their hero.
It's the 70s, and 13 year old Petra is in love, and not with a silly boy at school, but with a man. He's not from Wales like she is, or even from Britain. He's much more mysterious and alluring. He comes from across the pond and his name is David Cassidy. THE David Cassidy.
At the same time, recent graduate Bill is trying to get a foot hold in the world of publishing. It's not easy, even with a degree in English Literature, and he's not quite convinced his new writing job is worth the angst. Working for the David Cassidy magazine, his job is to take on the persona of the much loved pin-up...fully take on the persona. From letters to trivia, he is the voice of David, a guy who, for now at least, he has never met. He's blagging it all the way, and not entirely sure it's worth it.
When Petra and her friends find the magazine's ultimate quiz - the prize for which is an all expenses paid trip to Hollywood - they can barely contain their excitement. Throw in some girly gossip and malicious manipulation, and it's quite a turbulent time for the group. All's fair in love and war, but there will be some casualties along the way, and with no guarantee they will win, are the girls sacrificing their friendship for nothing?
The first half of the book is the period leading up to that fateful competition entry, and the second half is the aftermath, albeit some 20 years later. It's an interesting if slightly far-fetched premise but if you can suspend disbelief for a few hours, it's quite a fun read.
Some books are enhanced by having the narrative interrupted at key points, but the inclusions here - some ghost written articles and a weird case study from musical therapy - just seem odd and disjointed. At the same time, as the story moves on things happen without comment, characters vanish never to be heard of again and you're almost running to keep up, wondering if you've skipped a chapter such are the jumps forward with no preparation. I read a lot of it with a quizzical expression on my face, head tilted, brow furrowed. I was waiting for it all to make sense as I was sure once it did it would be marvellous, but alas it never happened.
This is a book I initially struggled to put down, but, once I had done, was also one I was in no hurry to pick back up. When you're in the moment, with the characters, it's compelling reading, but leave them behind for a few hours and their alluring appeal quickly fades. I did enjoy the book but it took me longer than I'd thought it would as I kept losing the will to read it.
In some ways it's a bit of a niche novel. While the book (inspired by the author's youth) and the interview transcription that follows it attest to the Cassidy Mania that swept the world in the 70s, former fans will still only account for a tiny member of the potential readership. As an 80s baby I knew neither him nor his work - I was more the Michael Jackson or Jason Donovan generation. At the same time, this could have been equally effective had it been written about a fictitious idol. These girls live, sleep and breathe Cassidy but the object of the girls' affection is less important than the magnitude of said affections.
I adored Pearson's first book, "I Don't Know How She Does It" and naturally want to draw comparisons between the two. If I didn't know the author, I'd perhaps have rated "I Think I Love You" a little higher, but compared to the previous title it didn't live up to my super high expectations. This has the feel of the 'difficult second book' that took years to write but wasn't necessarily worth the wait (coming out 8 years after her first hit). There is no doubt she is a talented writer, and I enjoyed the style of the book, I just thought the characters (especially all the many girls) rolled into one, and the overall feel was a little blah. I wanted to love it, I really did, but in the end I only liked it.
This is widely available, perhaps because the publishers were expecting as big a hit as her first novel. When I left the UK a fortnight ago it was easy to find for half price on the high street, or get it online for the same (rrp 6.99 GBP)
This review first appeared on The Bookbag.
Wondering why this, the difficult second book, took so long? Well it could have taken even longer...