When this book arrived in my mailbox, I took a quick look and decided it probably wasn't for me. The combination of the cover picture and the fact that the blurb compares to it 'the romance of David Nicholls One Day', a book I didn't't care for, made me put it one side. But it fell into my hands one sunny afternoon when I was looking for something to read in the garden, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It took me a while to really warm to it, but I ended up enjoying it quite a lot.
This is the story of Anna. She works as a copywriter for an online magazine, and lives in Kilburn with Pete, who she's very fond of but doesn't think she's in love with. She's generally slightly dissatisfied with her life, and is on anti-depressants (though Pete doesn't know). And (obviously he doesn't know this either) she's just joined Kismet, an online dating app that assesses its users' character and feelings in what is claimed to be a very complex and subtle way, and alerts then to any suitable matches in the vicinity. The matches are graded by number - at the start, Anna is disappointed to see a 57 and quite interested to spot a 66 from the bus on the way home. Pete, she knows, is a 67, perfectly adequate but not terribly exciting. Soon, however, she meets Geoff, who bears the almost unattainable number 81. Geoff is handsome, suave, and highly intelligent, and Anna agrees to meet him, basking in the knowledge of their very high compatibility. Indeed, that 81 makes her feel extremely comfortable with him - she needn't worry about her less than perfect body or any of her other supposed deficiencies as the high score will mean he doesn't mind them at all. So she drifts into a secret relationship with Geoff, which entails a lot of lying to Pete and involving her friends in covering for her. She's drinking a lot, staying up late, and feeling extremely guilty about her forthcoming birthday party, when she knows that Pete is planning to surprise her with a proposal and a ring. Should she ditch Pete altogether and settle down with gorgeous Geoff?
So far, so romance. But this is a much cleverer book than I've made it sound. It's thoughtful, and thought-provoking in its use of social media, with its obvious advantages - a sub-plot has Anna reaching out via twitter to find the owner of a suitcase full of clothes which has been abandoned for four years - and disadvantages - too much reliance on an app such as Kismet, obviously, which proves in the end to have surprising and discomforting effects. London life for Anna and her thirty-something friends is portrayed in all its pleasures and pains - more pains than pleasures for Anna, who constantly feels she doesn't really fit in, or share the interests of her somewhat shallow contemporaries. She has an interesting mind, full of quirky ideas and projects, most of which she doesn't actually put into action. She drinks far too much - her consumption made me feel quite dizzy myself at times - tries not to feel guilty about deceiving Pete, and goes on deceiving him and feeling guilty about it anyway. Altogether Anna is a wholly believable character, flawed but sympathetic, and her creation is something of a triumph on the part of her male creator. It just goes to show you shouldn't judge a book by its cover or its blurb, though naturally we all tend to do this anyway. How else can you judge it?