Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger

By Miriam Plotinsky

No longer a secret, shameful act, online dating is the norm for singles who are looking for love, and people are very open about meeting their significant others through a website. Though any embarrassing stigma behind Internet dating is gone, some people still struggle to write the perfect profile. In fact, many girlfriends show me the drafts of their profiles, hoping they come across with maximum appeal. So what happens when someone is just not much of a writer? This problem gets plenty of coverage in Lucy Robinson’s A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger.

A modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac, Robinson’s novel explores the life of career woman extraordinaire Charley Lambert, who ghostwrites e-mail exchanges for lovelorn but communication-challenged clients that are trying unsuccessfully to express themselves over the Internet.

Like many women, Charley has a hard time saying no when people ask her to take on extra projects or responsibilities. After a bizarre accident that leaves workaholic Charley stuck in bed, she starts a business, First Date Aid, which allows her to handle the online correspondence of hapless daters from the comfort of her home. Charley’s devastatingly handsome but immature housemate, Sam Bowes, helps her with the business, and they gradually form a bond that puts their established friendship on uncertain footing. As Charley recovers and tries to balance her highly paid job at a pharmaceutical firm with her fledgling small business, she has to learn that working to live is far more important than living to work.

Charley is a lovable and surprisingly vulnerable character, and Robinson sketches her with humor and understanding. While the rest of the world may view Charley as a work-obsessed nightmare, we see her for what she really is: a lonely woman who is using her job as a way to exercise control over an emotionally barren life. Her friends also see the good in Charley, but the problem is that Charley doesn’t see her own value. Instead, she uses her professional life as a shield to protect her from having feelings that might cause her to lose control of her carefully orchestrated existence.

Poignant and relatable, A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger aptly stresses the importance of valuing a personal life over all else. In this work-driven culture, that’s a hard message to relay without expecting some rebuttal, but Robinson manages to portray Charley’s struggle with just the right amount of silliness. The message is nonetheless clear, and we might all stop and think about what we’re capable of handling next time someone asks us to do a project before automatically agreeing. After all, sometimes saying no is the most liberating thing a woman can do.

Thanks to Penguin UK for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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