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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 December 2015
I bought this book largely because I've known several Poles who've settled in the UK, and hugely enjoyed a couple of other books about the Polish-London experience (chief among them Sue Gee's 'Spring Will Be Ours'). Courtney is very clear in interviews that she's not a chick-lit writer - she went back to self-publishing for this reason - but for all her claims, this book did seem oddly light-weight.

The heroine, Marta Dubrowska, is a graduate in Marketing from a well-regarded university in Warsaw (not the main university, I think), who has spent most of her life living in a very small Polish town. After graduation, she comes to London to look for a high-level marketing job. Fortunately (and very improbably) her mother, years before, made friends with a rich Englishwoman, who offers Marta a room in her South Kensington house - with only one housemate, said Englishwoman's snobby daughter Tasha - for as long as she wants, which takes care of accomodation. Finding a job is less easy, and Marta finds herself for some time doing the inevitable leafletting round while desperately applying to companies for marketing and advertising work. However, she finally begins to get on track - only to realize that her struggles have just begun. For not only is there the strange English job market to conquer, but there is the inexplicable moodiness of rich English girls, and the dilemma of finding the right boyfriend - should she choose Dominik, a gentle fellow-Pole also trying to work his way up the English job ladder, or the glamorous, rich, Cambridge-educated Jack?

Courtney has an amusing and very readable style, and some of the descriptions of London - and Marta's reaction to English traditions such as drinking games - are excellent. She does have the knack of making you want to read on, which means that the book is enjoyable light reading. And she's clearly done quite a bit of research into Polish traditions and food. However, this book highlights the dangers of not having a good editor (it's self-published) and is not nearly as serious as it pretends to be. Really, the story isn't so much about a young Polish woman coming to terms with English life as a rather predictable romance - nice girl has to choose between rakish adventurer and kind, steady soul. And the romance isn't interesting enough to hold the attention. Jack is so loathsome that it's surprising Marta takes him seriously, and her bubbly excitement about dating him and sipping cocktails at the Hurlingham Club makes her seem horribly mercenary. Dom is nice, but at the same time quite bland - and so honest and dependable that the misunderstanding between the two of them that leads Marta to drop him seems ridiculous. Marta herself doesn't come across as very sympathetic for a lot of the time, even though we are meant to be on her side. Her attitude to men seems very 'what's in it for me?' and her refusal to let Dom explain himself comes across as cruel - and she's clearly dumped a much nicer boyfriend back in Poland for seemingly no reason at all. Fortunately in the later Polish scenes we do see a more thoughtful Marta, which made me like her more.

Worse were Courtney's depiction of the Cambridge set. I was at Cambridge, and though Courtney is spot on about some of the silly drinking games, she caricatures many of the Cambridge-educated set to an absurd level. Cambridge is not - to my knowledge, unless I never socialized with them - packed full of millionaires who after graduation immediately relocate to incredibly posh London homes and jobs in the city. Somebody as thick as Tasha would have been unlikely to get into Cambridge at all, ditto Plum. Nor do all bright Cambridge students think management consultancy, banking or commercial law are the only jobs possible. I know Holly (who I suspect is Courtney with her first name slightly changed?) was meant to offer a contrast to the rest of the Cambridge students, but portraying the bulk of Cambridge students as thick, insensitive, hugely rich and vulgar was inaccurate and silly. I also didn't believe in Jack's ability to multiple-time his girlfriends! The marketing firm are also caricatured, though quite amusingly so.

The novel could have also done with a good edit to iron out some of the implausibilities, inconsistencies and inaccuracies. These ranged from simple errors - Dominik trying to call Marta on his mobile when it has allegedly also been stolen, Marta drinking half a bottle of wine with Dom happily in one scene and then expressing a hatred of the drink in the next, an Italian called 'Carl' rather than the Italian 'Carlo' - to lingual errors - as one reviewer pointed out, 'Dom' wouldn't be a typical Polish abbreviation of 'Dominik' to unlikely plot twists. For example, if Marta's English was as bad as it seems at the start, would she have really been able to secure a high-level marketing job? If her qualifications were that good, wouldn't her English have been better too? Would her nemesis at the firm have really got away with such evil plotting? Bearing in mind Central European attitudes to education (more serious than here, I think) would her marketing degree have been thought quite so wonderful in Poland? (It was, after all, a vocational degree, not an academic one). As another reviewer noted, I also suspect Courtney's Poland is rather dated - more like Poland in the last days of the Communists than Poland today. And I found everyone's obsession with money, fashion and glamour a bit irritating.

This being said, it is a rather fun read, the relationship between Marta and her family, and to a degree between Marta and Dom is rather sweet, some of the encounters between Marta and the super-rich were genuinely funny and the ending was genuinely quite heartwarming. As a very light-weight tale of immigrant life it's good downtime reading. But read Amanda Craig's 'Hearts and Minds', Sue Gee's 'Spring Will Be Ours' or Rose Tremain's wonderful 'The Road Home' for a better idea of what immigrant life is really like, and a more accurate vision of today's London.
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on 7 April 2014
I was really excited to read this book as I also moved to England when i was just a young girl.
Unfortunately , in my opinion, this book is unfair to both polish and english people.
First of all, i know a lot of polish people who work in their profession and had no problems finding good jobs. I know easter europeans who hardly speak english and yet managed to get a job at the bar/restaurant/shop.
I find it very unrealistic that Marta with her qualifications and experience didnt manage to get a job in a cafe/bar etc.
Then i do not understand how she can expect to get a great office job in marketing when she can't speak fluent english? Then she does get a job, and she constantly misunderstands her boss, and when she finds out what the boss meant, she still needs to ask her colleague how to do the task! So she isnt as qualified for the job as she likes to think! Most eastern europeans who don't speak good english, focus on improving their language skills by working in the bars etc before applying for fancy jobs.

She is supposed to have a good command of english and yet she doesn't know the past tense! Well, anyone who claims that their english is at conversational level after polish highschool, would know at least one basic past tense because the teachers in Poland focus on grammar and we spend hours memorising past tenses of english verbs! I appreciate that she was likely to make random mistakes but it is very unlikely that she would use present tense instead of past tense all the time!

In general i find Marta extremely unlikable. What is her obsession with correcting people when they mispronounce their surname? I find it very rude and most people i know would not do that unless it is necessary. The same goes for the scene in the polish restaurant where she corrects an english person ordering polish food. ( where author makes a mistake anyway-its not golabka but golabki- unless my kindle made a mistake) . No well mannered person would ever do something like that! Especially that marta herself cant speak properly! How rude was that!
Also, she has an air of self importance about her and goes on about how she doesnt want to clean or babysit as she is so well qualified. She nearly makes out that cleaning or babysitting is a shameful job!

Now, the constant reference to marta's clothes and how unfashionable she is. Well, most polish girls are actually nicely dressed even if their clothes are cheaper or of lower quality. I cant remember the name of the jacket that marta was so excited about , but i remember thinking that i have never heard of that brand/make before and its supposed to be very trendy in Poland!

Now, i was lucky enough to meet english people from both working and upper class and they never behaved towards me like people described in this book(although i am not saying that people like that don't exist) but i do believe that it paint an unfair image of an upper class.

There are a lot of errors in this book that i will not mention as i understand that the author isn't polish however i believe it paints an unrealistic portrait of easter europeans and as i mentioned the main character is highly unlikable.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2008
I don't normally pick up what I would describe as chick-lit, but I thought I would read this after seeing a review in a Polish newspaper in London. I have to say, as chick-lit goes, it is good chick-lit and certainly enjoyable both by men and women.

Does it give an in-depth view of life as a Polish migrant? No, it doesn't. It touches on it, particularly in relation to finding anything other than manual or menial work. It also hammers home the point about common stereotypes, but without really dredging the depths of the unpleasantness of some views heard in London about migrants to this country.

This is really just an easy read, where the main character is a Polish migrant, but the subject matter is really about cliques, circles of people based largely on class or background, ignorance and prejudice. It's an enjoyable and compulsive read, helped by short chapters, but with a rather predictable ending and one that seemed to be wrapped up very quickly with no loose ends, almost as if the author had been given a page count and found herself getting there earlier than expected, tidying everything up in just a few pages.

I agree with an earlier reviewer that I would have liked to have seen more dialog in Polish, even if, as the other reviewer said, that means putting a translation in the footnotes.

I'd definitely recommend this book, but as an easy read rather than an in-depth view of life as a migrant.
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on 25 December 2013
the mixture of Polish and London appealed to me though I think the latter was more developed than the former. A good read with a satisfactory combination or work life and 'out of office' even if the two became rather mixed together!
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on 13 September 2011
this novel is an easy read, funny but characters do need a stronger argument to defend their stands!
I liked the character Marta but I do think that she was not a moral person as the book is trying to make us believe. the first man tried it with her (used her) was her lodger's fiance and she was fine with it!
then another Polish guy
then back to her fiend's fiance
then the Italian at work
then back with the polish guy!!
she is using all men to get to where she wants
yes some women use this route to get a better lives but they don't say they are saints as Marta is trying to do!
I would recommend this to any one who would like to know about how any foreigner (non British) lives in Uk. It certainly says a great deal of what non-holder of black passport go through and how they are being treated unfairly.
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on 30 September 2008
The last time I picked up a book from my wife's pile and actually enjoyed it was Courtney's first book, so I actually read this one voluntarily.
It reads very easily and can be dipped into for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, (so perfect for commuting). But unlike most of the chick-lit I've come across, this one actually has something solid at the heart of it.
Without coming across like she's preaching, she really paints a vivid picture of what life must be like for the thousands of educated Eastern Europeans who come over here every year and must get talked down to and treated like cleaners by half the people they meet.
I love the idea of a Daily Mail-reading racist getting to the end of this book and realising that they've inadvertently been rooting for the Polish immigrant rather than the middle-class middle-Englanders.
This book won't change the world but it will make everyone who reads it think a little differently now and again and you can't ask much more than that of a light novel.
(Having a beautiful model on the front cover doesn't harm its appeal either...)
Highly recommended.
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on 15 October 2008
Polly Courtney's second novel brings us another set of Cambridge graduates in London - the difference being the introduction of a morally superior, intellectually equal yet socially inferior outsider for a new central character. If "regional" British girls might have trouble breaking into the cliques of the London graduate sets, that's nothing compared to what confronts ambitious Polish graduate Marta who can, understandably, barely comprehend what's hit her.

Courtney effectively delivers the strangeness of what Londoners consider normal. Marta's wholesome naivety gets the reader on-side very quickly and her determination feels real and worthy. The unfriendly indifference of London pedestrians is very familiar and some of the high wage earning buffoons that Marta encounters are superbly slappable!

The plot is more intricate and the style and pace of this second offering are all superior to the first. The desperation conveyed in Chapter 18 and its concluding ray of hope takes the reader by the scruff of the neck and makes you ache for Marta's swift delivery from injustice.

One sticking point for me lies in the conversations Marta has with her fellow Poles. Although Courtney brings in plenty of short Polish expressions, the extended conversations rendered in English for the (English) reader's benefit put Marta's "foreign-ness" at risk. What a maverick coup it would have been to go all out and actually have Marta speak Polish with the Poles in the narrative and provide a translation in footnotes or an additional back-referenced chapter. I feel that Courtney's intelligent audience might accomodate that comfortably.

As with Golden Handcuffs, all the characters we care about in Poles Apart are neatly and kindly taken care of. One or two of the less sympathetic characters, too, are given an unexpectedly generous (if dismissive) signing-off, which is forgivable. Thankfully, Marta's most coldly malevolent opponent gets her comeuppance very satisfactorily. This is, therefore, a feelgood story - based on a true one, to its credit. It sits proudly on my shelf.
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on 19 November 2008
Poles Apart is another great novel by Polly Courtney, so much so that I almost read it all in one sitting. The characters are well-developed and it offers an interesting insight into a number of different lives in London. The dialogue is well-crafted and the author keeps the plot moving at a steady pace, as the reader is taken on a journey through London, from Kilburn to South Kensington, the Hurlingham Club to Acton, and many other places in between.

I can relate to some of the protagonist (Marta)'s experiences, having arrived in the UK myself 2 years ago, not least because my 'rescuer' (a new friend who let me crash on her floor) was also in Kilburn, and my 'Tash' lived in Angel, not South Kensington.

Marta's situation is so much more challenging than my own, if only because I'm a native English speaker, but there are definitely elements I can relate to. I'm sure many others can too. So many people arrive in London with these grandiose ideas of finding a lucrative and rewarding career, or impressing their parents, or whatever, and when their dreams don't fit their reality it can be challenging or even crushing.

This novel takes those experiences and expresses them from a different perspective, and I was able to really empathise with the protagonist's plight in what was, I felt, a very readable and exciting novel.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who lives in London, has migrated to the UK, or simply likes a good read!
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on 16 December 2009
My girlfriend is Polish and actually called Marta. I had nothing to read so read this over three nights.

The book raises a few interesting insights into migrant labour work in London, e.g. how a degree from a good university in Poland amounts to nothing as no one knows what the university is over here. It certainly got me thinking on this issue, and makes you understand the difficulties that migrants might encounter and ingrained prejudices and stereotypes towards Polish people. There are also some good observations in respect of the cultural make up of typical Londoners such as excessive drinking and exuberant consumerism. This is however where all intellectual worth ends.

I note that some people on here have attempted to deconstruct the book and analyse it as study of class juxtaposed with racial prejudice. I think this is reading too far into what is really just a trashy popularist book for women. The language is, to be blunt, of a low order, and the experimental attempt in one of the chapters to change the writing style into a transcript just smacks of desperation, and perhaps of an author who believes she is more clever with the English language than she actually is. The plot is completely predictable. I found myself second guessing the situations Marta encounters numerous times throughout, which ruined the authors attempts to provide twists or climaxes to the plot. The conclusion presented no surprises, as it was obvious what would happen to each of the characters.

There were some chapters, for instance where her dad is in hospital, that are worthy of nothing more than skim reading. The two sexual encounters described are just sordid, and not in a raunchy, interesting or powerful way.

Basically, if you want a completely unstimulating book that has the all the engaging capability of a paving slab, then this is it. In essence it is just complete twaddle.

I liked the cover however. I wonder if that is really a picture of the true Marta, and why she looks so stony faced.
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on 12 September 2008
What a great book! Took it away on holiday and was absolutely hooked as soon as I started reading. Really involving, insightful and has some very funny laugh-out-loud moments. From the minute you meet Marta you want to know what's going to happen next, there are moments that make you cringe, make you want to get in there and help her out, give a few people a good telling off, or just give her a good hug! Really enjoyed it, super second book by Miss Courtney, and now the long and agonizing wait for book three!
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