Summer breaks are for reading. That is, reading for pleasure. I did read some enjoyable books during my first year of university, but you know, in summer you’re free to read whatever you want and you don’t have to study a book too deeply.
For this summer, I thought I should take up a themed reading challenge. I am calling it Around Europe in 14 books.
Why Europe? Well, I had to put a limit somewhere, and besides, I am becoming more and more interested in European literature. Why only 14 books? Again, it’s a question of limit. I gave myself a time limit of 14 weeks, from now to the end of September, when I will go back to my studies.
The choice of countries was partly a matter of personal interest (for example, the Nordic countries) and partly a matter of chance, depending on which books (translated in English, of course) I found available first. Hopefully, I can include different countries in a future challenge. The chosen books are not necessarily representative of the country’s culture, but when applicable, I will point out such aspects. Oh, and they are also not necessarily summer reads, if there’s anything like that. I only go by personal tastes.
So, one week, one country, one book, one review on the blog. If I’m lucky, I may include an extra recommendation related to the reviewed book.
First destination? Ireland, with Cecelia Ahern’s How to Fall in Love.
Around Europe in 14 Books – #1: Ireland
How to Fall in Love by Cecelia Ahern
Original name: How to Fall in Love
Author: Cecelia Ahern
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: chick lit, romance
Location: Dublin, Ireland
My rating: 3.5/4 out of 5 stars
She has just two weeks. Two weeks to teach him how to fall in love – with his own life.
Adam Basil and Christine Rose are thrown together late one night, when Christine is crossing the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin. Adam is there, poised, threatening to jump.
Adam is desperate – but Christine makes a crazy deal with him. His 35th birthday is looming and she bets him that before then she can show him that life is worth living.
Against the ticking of the clock, the two of them embark on wild escapades, grand romantic gestures and some unlikely late-night outings. Slowly, Christine thinks Adam is starting to fall back in love with his life. But is that all that’s starting to happen?
This book was a birthday gift from a dear friend, writer and blogger Myna Kaltschnee. I am ashamed that I haven’t read it before, but at least it enabled me to dream up this summer reading challenge.
Confession: I don’t usually go for bestselling authors like Ahern and not even for the so-called chick lit genre (most of the times I disregard genre fiction). So, if I had been browsing a bookstore, I would have totally missed this book. However, it doesn’t mean that I am not up for such a book if I like the subject and themes. This novel is one of those.
Therefore, it’s my first Ahern novel. Nevertheless, I already had an idea of her because once I watched, on tv, a movie based on her first novel, P.S. I Love You, with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. At the time, I had thought it was just one of those super-cheesy flicks to be enjoyed when you’re bored of zapping on tv. My interest had been piqued not so much by the story but by the actor James Marsters, famous for interpreting Spike in the tv show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and my biggest celeb crush in adolescence. Yet, it wasn’t entirely a lighthearted movie as it dealt with a serious and touching subject such as losing a husband to cancer. In the same manner, How to Fall in Love addresses a serious subject: mental health.
The story starts with the protagonist, Christine Rose, debunking the myth that lightning never strikes twice. That proverb is “untrue” and she’s the living proof. Not because she’s been struck by lightning, but because she has experienced “two highly unlikely events” in a short time, turning her life upside down. The first one is the encounter with Simon Conway, a stranger who is threatening to kill himself. An experience which doesn’t go very well and which propels Christine towards a series of life changes that lead her to yet another stranger, Adam Basil, who is on the verge of jumping off a bridge. Terrified of repeating the experience with Conway, Christine promises to this stranger that she will help him to love life again before his birthday – that is, in two weeks’ time. It seems like a nice gesture (it is), but there are two problems: Christine is not qualified for such a delicate job and she has her own problems. She has just abandoned her husband and is in need of finding her own happiness.
I tried not to be my usual rational self when reading otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the story. For one person to experience this kind of “two highly unlikely events” seemed to me too far-fetched at first but hey, coincidences do happen sometimes.
Christine is a big fan of self-help books, the ‘how-to’ kind. She has a huge collection of them in her recruitment agency office, one for every silly reason, and she heavily relies on them when trying to help her clients, the people around her, and herself. In fact, she purchases a brand-new book to help herself with helping Adam. However, it seems like these books don’t solve anything, they only increase her problems. To highlight furthermore the ridiculousness of having blind faith in such books, there is a funny scene – one of my favourite parts of the book – when Adam is browsing her collection, reading the titles out loud and forming possible new (and hilarious) ‘how-to’ titles. The reader can understand how the entire book is built upon this idea when seeing all the chapter titles starting with ‘How to…’ (and the book title, duh). There are also references to the process of writing such a book, which is Christine’s dream. As we go on, the reader can realise that Christine’s narration is actually that writing process of her book. I love such metaliterary references!
Apart from that moment with Adam and self-help books, there are some other funny moments. Christine’s sisters, Brenda and Adrienne, together with their father, are probably the most effective comic relief. The narrating voice (Christine’s) is colloquial and easy-going. It almost felt like I was reading someone’s personal blog. I thought I would easily grow tired of such a voice, but I did not.
I was afraid that such a lighthearted narration and the fact that the protagonist – who is not a therapist – is trying to “fix” a person with suicidal thoughts meant an incorrect treatment of the serious subject that is mental health. However, as I was reaching the end of the book, I thought that Ahern handled it quite well. The final outcome is quite obvious if you’re familiar with this genre (and there are the book title and description which kind of give it away), yet in the last chapters, there were still some surprising revelations and meaningful moments. At the heart of those chapters is an important conclusion: that people cannot be “fixed”, but they definitely need understanding and a helping hand from those who care, in order for them to find their way. And that it’s ok to go to a therapist. And chuck out some of those self-help books, will you?
To chick lit and romance fans, How to Fall in Love is an easy recommendation. I wouldn’t mind recommending it to some others who are not fans either, as it’s good to try out a different genre, once in a while. It can be enjoyable and it can defeat some personal misconceptions. For readers who are going through problems, it won’t make you change overnight but it can give hope. It can also be eye-opening for other readers who may need to look out for their loved ones. It is well-balanced between the serious issues and the lightheartedness of the characters’ personality and the narration, without falling into absurdities, making it an uplifting read.