Nobody could fail to be won over by the self-deprecating charm of Claire Calman's introduction to her first novel: "despite popular demand that she should go back to magazines, she is now working on another book". Actually, that's good news for readers--those who pick up this sharp and witty meditation on sex and the other element that occasionally goes with it, Love is a Four Letter Word
, will definitely be looking out for the second novel.
Calman's heroine Bella is trying to remember what sex is like. Wasn't it something that happened somewhere between the talking-and-going-out-to-dinner bit and the sobbing-and-eating-too-many-biscuits bit? But she is determined to fall off her sexual wagon before she becomes a virgin again ("all sealed over like pierced ears if you don't wear earrings for too long"). But there's one thing Bella is not prepared to hear again: the "L" word. Her body might be making hormonal demands, but she's resolute in not wanting the emotional baggage of love again. Nobody will be surprised, of course, to learn that she's back up to her neck in romantic trouble again--and why is it she always ends up with the wrong kind of man? Like all the best comic novelists, Calman crams her perky narrative with a host of highly diverting characters to surround her beleaguered heroine. The plotting, too, betrays no sign of first-novel inexperience: the situations that contrive to sink Bella deeper in the mire are all as imaginative as they are funny. And Calman's narrative voice always sounds just the right note, as when Bella is ironically considering becoming a nun:
Mother, I'm joining a convent. You'll never seen me again. Who knows, in her austere cell she might even take up painting again. Alone, the patterns of her thoughts would be clear and vibrant, shocking the virgin paper with their boldness, her brush caressing and seductive. She snorted at herself: Saint Bella of the Divine Brushstrokes.
"'Simply wonderful! I was totally enchanted'" (Fiona Walker)