Romancing the Dark Side of Chick-Lit
I read Louise Wise’s sci-fi romance Eden, last year and really liked her voice. I was intrigued by the title of her more recent publication, The Fall of the Misanthrope. I bitch, therefore I am, especially with its billing as a ‘dark chick-lit!’ Misanthrope is a deeply romantic and insightful tale, which deals with difficult issues and the healing power of love. It is also very humorous and made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion!
In the novel,Valerie Anthrope (Miss Anthrope – I loved the pun) is a young woman who runs a financial brokerage. Valerie is not only serious minded and hard working but, she can also be a bit of a bitch. She lives alone and keeps herself to herself, concluding that it is best not to care for anyone. There nevertheless resides within her a deep sadness and vulnerability.
In steps Ellen Semple, a missionary worker returned from abroad, who, in true ‘fairy godmother’ form resolves to make Valerie her next ‘project. Ellen senses something is not quite right with Valerie and does her best to bring light into her darkness. She secures part-time employment in Valerie’s small office. Then, believing that Valerie’s outlook is due to financial difficulties, she persuades her nephew Lex Kendal, a successful businessman, to put a large contract her way. When she sees that Lex is intrigued by Valerie, she warns him off her, believing that Valerie is too fragile to handle Lex’s ‘love’em and leave ‘em philosophy.’ Yet Lex does not take no for an answer, and Valerie falls for him. When she discovers that he is Ellen’s nephew, a fact that they deliberately hid from her, she feels deceived, let down and deeply wounded. To protect herself from future hurt she dumps Lex, almost as soon as their affair has begun.
Yet it is too late, Valerie’s armour has begun to crack and she starts to unravel and descend into depression, the dark dreams she has been having since childhood intensifying. It is from this moment that the novel, much of which has been light hearted, becomes darker, yet humour still abounds. I am glad to say that the tale did reach a satisfying conclusion. The prologue and the epilogue also contain an unexpected twist and make the reader question both fate and free will.
Valerie is complex, early childhood events having shaped her into the woman she is. Indeed, she is ‘stuck’ in the past and needs to let go. The hard face she presents is very much a façade to protect herself from future hurt and loss. The circumstances surrounding Lex’s and Ellen’s deceit unlock her emotions, giving her a chance to face them and heal herself.
Lex, a divorced single parent is a loveable rogue. He is attracted to Valerie and decides to make her one of his many conquests. He has never really grown up. However, Lex becomes smitten with Valerie, who is so unlike his usual women and her prickly nature is a challenge he wants to win. At first he is not thinking long term, but he soon realises how vulnerable she is and wants to help. He finds that he is very much in love with her. I found their developing relationship believable and touching.
The character of Ellen is pivotal. It is Ellen who decides to turn Valerie’s life around. She starts by making small changes in the office, trying to draw Valerie out in conversations and encouraging her to socialise. Oh, and she also introduces her to Lex! The secondary characters of Tim and Paul, Valerie’s employees are also supportive of her. Tim in particular is also very protective, knowing of her history.
I feel that anyone who has experienced anxiety or depression due to past trauma, or is close to someone who has, will find that this book deals sensitively with the subject. It also illustrates the redeeming power of love. Despite the serious subject matter, Misanthrope is a very funny love story, the humour ranging from light to dark. The author’s descriptions of how Ellen bursts into Valerie’s ‘grey’ world and adds shades of colour to it are hilarious, as is the banter between Valerie and Lex and her reaction to his tried and tested seduction techniques.
Louise Wise is a British author and, like Eden, the novel has a British feel. I again found her voice fresh and original and I was immediately intrigued by the characters and quickly drawn into the plot – it would make an excellent screenplay with the right cast. I recommend this book to all romance lovers, not just those who enjoy contemporary romance or chick-lit.