Monday, 29 October 2012

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen: Book review

Drink with this: Diet coke

Slightly too sweet and insipid. No alcoholic kick. Good for a quick caffeine and sweetener buzz but ultimately these are empty calories. 

What's what: 

Manic Pixie Dream girl fancies preppy rich guy, but almost sabotages their relationship due to her own self-loathing. Unfortunately this was a contemporary young-adult romance sadly lacking in the actual romance. 

A criticism levelled by many readers at this novel is that Ella is an irritating and insecure character. Her insecurity didn’t bother me as such, as this was a fairly crucial plot point. Nevertheless I would have liked to see more of a narrative arc going on with her character, with a bit more transition between a state of complete wet blanket-ism to Buffy style ass-kicking. (Not literally, one thing this book is entirely bereft of is any whiff of the supernatural.)
" 'Are you freakin' kidding?' She loomed over me. 'Do you not understand the basic laws of nature? You are nothing. You do not exist.' " pg 333 The Fine Art of Truth or Dare 

A common opinion in Goodreads reviews of the book is that her conversations with Edward, an artist who has been dead for over a hundred years, are more than a little creepy. I actually liked this aspect of the book – I found it believable that a mopey teenage girl would have a romantic fixation with a figure almost completely constructed in her imagination. Ridiculous crushes are a fundamental hallmark of being a teenage girl! This also develops the theme of truth in an interesting way, and the often idealised perception we have of others and their lives. I have to admit though that the Twilight parallels – Ella – dead Edward – unhealthy romance – completely passed me by until I read somebody else’s review, and now I’m finding this slightly sinister….

I really liked Ella’s friends and family, who were all well-drawn characters who added something to the story. Unfortunately this seemed slightly wasted effort on behalf of the author – I felt that a lot of the subplots involving them petered out towards the end. These characters at times seemed there more to add local colour than any real narrative significance. Frankie’s brother Danny falls into this category – I kept expecting him to feature further, and for his storyline to amount to something. When this never happened it definitely felt like the gun being ignored on the mantelpiece. Not that I object to a sexy bad boy with witty repartee, but still - why was he there at all?

The biggest failing in this likeable novel though has to be the relationship between the two lead characters. It just didn’t work. I had more of a sense of who Ella and Edward as a couple were than Ella and Alex. I understood intellectually Alex’s point of view at the book’s central crisis, but his smug behaviour didn’t particularly endear him to me a character. There was a distressing lack of swoon in the book, which sadly the sweet ending (SPOILER!) came too late to salvage.

" 'I don't even know what okay would mean,' he said. 'Okay. We've never been okay. We've been kinda scrambling for it....But Jesus, Ella, I really don't want to feel like I have to constantly be reassuring you of things you should know for yourself.' " pg 353 The Fine Art of Trrth or Dare

Verdict: Enjoyable enough but ultimately unsatisfying.

On the big screen: Could imagine it as a faux indie offbeat romance, in the style of Garden State etc. A screenplay would strip away all the extraneous material, and impose a stricter plot. Not sure if even attractive leads could inject enough chemistry to make this a believable romance though.

Highbrow/lowbrow:  Despite the art history allusions, comfortably lowbrow.