The sheer physical size of this book put me off, and after the first couple of chapters I wasn't sure I could fight my way through it. Firstly the good stuff: Ms. Shriver is clearly a very clever cookie, and a number of her original, witty figures of speech made me laugh out loud or at least chuckle. She has a light, elegant and intelligent style of prose, and draws interesting and original characters.
There were some problems for me however: sticking rigidly to a rather literal version of the 'Sliding Doors' formula made the book unnecessarily heavy going for me - I'd get to the end of a chapter and be looking forward to finding out what happens next, when I'd realise with a sinking feeling that I was going to have to plough through the same events or period of time all over again from the 'alternative' viewpoint. Rather dispiriting, though to be honest it was often more enjoyable than expected once I gritted my teeth and launched into it.
And while Ms. Shriver's rendering of London life rang almost unfailingly true to me (as someone who lived there for 10 years), for me she hit a major bum note with the speech of one of the major characters, the snooker player Ramsey Acton. Having him use what the author acknowledged was sometimes 'odd' vocabulary for a contemporary Londoner such as "ducky" didn't help, but I simply couldn't 'hear' his speech as at all realistic -it just didn't work. To believe that someone can become a successful book illustrator without any art college training was also a strangely naive notion which I couldn't swallow (as an art college graduate myself!) - it really isn't something you can just teach yourself.
There were also a couple of silly factual errors which should have been corrected by a competent editor, and which rather grated. I really don't want to get into gender stereotyping (honest!), but it's clear that Ms. Shriver isn't into cars at all. There was the slight oddity of using the American name 'XKE' for the Jaguar E-type that Ramsey owns, though since the narrator of the book Irina is American she just about gets away with it. However how the author thought she'd ever get away with failing to spend 20 seconds on Google checking when the iconic Ford Capri was on sale is a bit beyond me - Irina gets a 1995 model when actually the car was last on sale in 1986. You don't need to be a car buff to know that Capri production stopped long before the mid-90's... didn't Ms. Shriver think any blokes would read her book? And a reference to a 'listed' property requiring permission from "the National Trust" for a change of external paintwork was another silly and easily-checked fact: it's English Heritage the author is thinking of. Small details, yes, but when an author has worked hard to build a convincing picture of a time and place it's amazing how factual errors knock it down in seconds.
So a flawed, over-structured but ultimately fascinating book with some original characters, and original observations on life and love. Requires some determination and stamina though!
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