I was sixteen when I first read Bridget Jones’s Diary. This genre was completely new to me, and I thought that was what life was like for ‘thirty-somethings’ (somewhat exaggerated of course, but I found the prospect of having all those ‘do I have the right partner/job/social life/waistline’ issues rather interesting all the same). Now that I am married and very-nearly-thirty, I seem to have missed that junction in life. Instead, while all those characteristic dilemmas are very much present in Andrew Clover’s Learn Love in a Week – revisiting many of the genre’s tropes – I can hardly identify with its immature characters.
To be fair, when I started reading Learn Love in a Week, I did feel some sympathy for the three main characters: Polly (the wife), Arthur (the husband) and Em (best friend of Polly). The story is told from their perspectives, which alternate quickly and overall give the book a nice flow. The book’s sharp sense of humour, while enjoyable, portrays men and women in their least favourable light. Polly is a control freak who’d have preferred a partner with a more imposing career. Arthur is a stay-at-home dad-cum-writer, but he’s not making any money and can’t handle the stress of three children and a dog. Their relationship is going through a crisis, in which they keep making all the wrong choices. So far so good: It’s a perfectly stereotypical situation with jokes on every page. But I wondered: was there actually going to be a turning point?
When a friend of the couple suggests that they should join the course ‘Learn love in a week’, Polly and Arthur don’t actually follow that advice. The characters’ initially funny behaviour starts to become obnoxious: they never make the right decisions or see the things that really matter. They try to keep up appearances, constantly lie through their teeth and treat their children as noisy accessories. It’s the stunning lack of self-reflection in all characters that makes the story gradually less agreeable to read. The story is more about anger, frustration and hate than it is about understanding love. Throughout, I couldn’t help thinking that these two really needed to divorce.
One could argue that such an exaggerated love-life of two adults who seem to frequently hate each other fits well within its comical genre. It’s funny because it’s outrageous yet slightly recognizable. The appealing factor of this book is that you can easily feel relieved that your life is not such a mess!
This would be its redeeming feature, if the plot were not so unconvincingly finished. In the end, both Polly and Arthur and Em and her new love interest need a near-death experience to actually see what their other half means to them. This ending is just too easy. While the string of accidents is original, it is also unconvincing – as is having make-up sex in a hospital bed only hours after surviving life-saving brain surgery. I can see that this book might appeal to fans of the genre, but I must confess that I am not won over.