Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

An aspiring debut more chick-lit than Jane Austen

In the crowded and highly competitive chick-lit market a snappy title can go a long way. Ditto a promising storyline.

With her debut novel, The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, journalist Kim Izzo ticks both boxes. But for all that she might seek to emulate the author whose name inspires the title, Izzo's writing has little of her heroine's wit and wisdom.

Paraphrasing Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Izzo's opening lines, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman of 39 and in possession of a good complexion must be in want of a husband. And a baby. Unless you are me", pretty much sets the novel's tone.

Its narrator, 39-year-old Kate Shaw is a gratingly ditzy freelancer with a fashion magazine, covering maternity leaves and conjuring up lasagne and cupcakes for her pregnant colleagues. Having spent her life savings funding her philandering boyfriend's pipe dreams, Kate can no longer afford her own place and moves back home to live with her feckless mother and endlessly forbearing old gran.

Then the recession strikes, budgets are slashed and Kate finds herself out of a job. Worse, her beloved granny dies and her mother's gambling debts finally catch up with her.

Almost overnight Kate finds herself single, homeless and heartbroken.

Then serendipitously she is commissioned to write an article exploring the premise of Jane Austen's most celebrated work: is it possible, at a certain age, to marry well? Spurred on by the need to provide for her increasingly impecunious family, Kate decides to find out for herself and resolves to bag herself a rich man before she turns 40: less than a year in which to track down and capture Mr Right - or at least Mr Right Enough.

So far so quintessentially chick-lit; a genre which can be wonderfully entertaining. Alas, although our heroine - now boasting an aristocratic title (albeit one bought online as a joke) - duly takes a well-worn path through the upmarket watering holes of Palm Beach, St Moritz and London in pursuit of her quarry, it never quite takes off.

Because nobody - not Kate, her disparate conquests, or her bland gal pals - ever really engages; not least because, as evidenced in their clunky, repetitive and inconsequential exchanges, they never really convincingly connect with each other

Izzo may well aspire to the insight, clarity and peerless prose of her English literary heroine - but Austen she ain't.

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