Recently, in romance blogland, someone asked where the older romance heroine has gone. I can tell you this much: she’s not in this book.
My biggest problem with How to Break Your Own Heart is that it’s not a romance. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have picked it up—it’s not the sort of premise I’d invest time in unless I know there will be a happy ending.
Yes, I read the back of the book. Oh, it deceived me. And so did the book’s nomination for a R*BY Award for Romantic Elements. Seriously, I’m not sure which Australian romance readers judged this book, but the readers I know would throw it against the wall.
Amelia Bradlow is content with her life. Her husband, Ed, isn’t the most demonstrative man on earth, but he loves her and provides for her. She has a job, and although it’s not the most wonderful career ever, she’s fine with it. But she’s 37 and approaching the point of no return for having a baby. To her dismay, it seems Ed isn’t so keen on children.
When Amelia starts spending more time with her best friend, Kiki, she starts questioning whether or not her marriage is as perfect as it seems. From having separate bedrooms, to the issue of kids, to Ed’s reluctance to change their comfortable routine—Amelia must decide how she wants to live the rest of her life before it’s too late.
I knew from reading the ending first that there’s an alternative hero in this book. Joseph was Amelia’s Might’ve-Been in high school. A friend of her brother’s, Joseph had a girlfriend at the time, and it didn’t end well.
But the problem with the setup is that Maggie Alderson starts off by recounting Ed’s courtship of Amelia. It’s actually a lovely, gentle, old-fashioned romance in France, and I wanted Ed and Amelia to have a happy ending.
Soon, of course, the cracks in their present relationship become obvious: they sleep in separate beds, Ed hates Amelia’s haircut, Ed hates Kiki’s influence on her, Ed doesn’t like Amelia working … and so on. Demonise the husband much?
Amelia encounters Joseph again at a party, and she feels sparks flying. Joseph says some things that imply he’s interested in her and has thought of her over the years.
First, the guy was a two-timing slut in high school. I don’t care if he liked Amelia—you don’t do that to your best friend’s sister, of all people. Second, I don’t care if he’s pined for her for the last two decades—not that I can believe it—you don’t go pushing the boundaries with someone else’s wife.
*** Major spoilers. Skip to the next section if you don’t want to read them. ***
So if adultery is a showstopper for you, don’t pick up this book. While Amelia and Ed are ‘working out their problems’, she ends up in bed with Joseph. It was glorious! She has her first orgasm! But when Ed wants to work things out, she goes along to see if they can talk it out like adults … and then she sleeps with Ed! Except Ed realises her bedroom technique has changed, so he knows she cheated on him.
Oh, and Joseph may have been married at the time. Also, he may have slept with Kiki.
You know what, some porntastic scenes might actually have made this plot bearable.
Ye olde biological clock
Seriously, if at 37 years of age (and with the benefit of a decent education) you all of a sudden realise that your biological clock is ticking, you’re an idiot.
Amelia’s desire for a baby outweighs all the other good things in her life. It pissed me off, to be honest.
And Kiki is childless, not out of choice, but because she can’t conceive. That pissed me off, too.
The only character in the story who doesn’t want a baby is Ed, and he’s painted out to be the bad guy because of this, never mind the fact that the story is littered with horrible parents and Ed actually has genuine emotional/psychological reasons for not wanting kids.
There are other stupid little details around this issue of not wanting babies. Amelia starts hating Ed’s insistence on using a condom. For years, these people have used condoms. Why didn’t Ed just get a full vasectomy?
So Amelia’s fear of never having the opportunity to be a mother drives her most important decisions in this book. Basically, she has a midlife crisis and, after years of leeching off her husband, decides to trade him in.
What happens when you can’t stand the heroine
I just couldn’t believe Amelia. For a well-travelled, 37-year old woman, she sounded like a 60-year old nanna who has never read an issue of Cosmo in her life. She’s passive-aggressive, and her behaviour made me feel sorry for Ed. Ed wasn’t even that likeable by the end—he has anger management and possibly self-obsession issues—but I still felt like he wasted the best years of his life on Amelia.
Amelia’s character development serves the plot. For example, she’s never had orgasm and doesn’t really know her feminine power, yet she manages to flirt her brother out of trouble just because she’s wearing some flattering clothes. Blech.
Yay or nay?
I can’t recommend this book to romance readers. But if you’re after women’s fiction with a kind of Britishy feel to it (Aussie readers might understand what I’m talking about here), I guess this book might work.
How to Break Your Own Heart is listed in the 2009 Books Alive Guide.