Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sheer British, Sheer Fun-- Sheer Abandon

I've never been an Anglophile.  Though I enjoy a spot of tea, find British Humor (or Humour) wonderfully entertaining, and found the greatest boot shop in the world in London, I've never put much thought into immersing myself in the culture.  I know that may seem odd, as many of my favorite books are written by British authors and set in England (Atonement, Gurnsey Potato Peel, Saturday, One Day, etc...) So, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that i was so wildly entertained by Sheer Abandon, a novel by Penny Vincenzi.  Nonetheless, I found myself rapidly immersed in the story and was genuinely disappointed when I finished the book.

Sheer Abandon is the story of 3 women, Jocasta, Martha and Clio, who meet at age 18 on a post-high school trip to far East.  Although they had the best of intentions, they don't remain in contact after their trips and instead meet up again by chance sixteen years later.  As is the case in books like these, all three are incredibly successful and beautiful and everyone around them is equally successful and beautiful.

The book was not, in my opinion, very believable.  Everyone falls in love, everyone has a happy ending (well, almost everyone...) and everyone makes the right choices at the right time.  I usually hate books like these (Jodi Picault, I'm speaking to you) because life doesn't work that way.  Actions have consequences and in stories like these, those consequences are always positive.  Usually that frustrates me.

For some reason, I liked Sheer Abandon in spite of-- or perhaps because of-- it's flawed positivity.  What struck me most about the story was the ability of the characters to forgive and to act so welcomingly towards people they barely knew, or those who had wronged them.  As a person who is not easy to get along with and one who expects her friends to give of themselves as much as she is willing to give to them, I found these women to be completely fictionalized.  However, for some reason, I was willing to suspend my belief and even my criticism, a feat much more rare than it should be.  I liked that these women opened their hearts and their homes to others, I liked that they forgave so quickly and I liked that they so easily empathized.  While I normally want to throw the book out the window when I read about characters who are so ridiculously unrealistic, I actually wished to be more like them.  I credit Vincenzi; her writing is easy enough that I enjoyed suspending reality for a bit.

Vincenzi also gives us an intimate portrait of London in a way that many other English writers haven't.  She immerses the reader so thoroughly in the British culture that I actually found myself telling Andrew that we should put the groceries in the boot of our car.  I felt as if I was an official Brit.  All of the sudden, I wanted to listen to the BBC and eat blood pudding, well, minus the blood pudding... and the BBC...

The point is- Sheer Abandon will never win awards for it's story line, nor will it change any lives.  But, we need books like this from time to time.  The opportunity to read a light book that is well written is a welcome change from some of the heavier books out there.  I highly enjoyed my literary visit to the UK and recommend you all travel there as well.

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