Friday, 13 September 2013

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

Publication date: 28th March 2012

Published by: Sphere

Genre: Contemporary Romance ('Chick Lit')

Hey ladies! In a relationship rut? Boyfriend doesn't appreciate you and won't pop the question? On the wrong side of 30 and desperate? Get thee to the English countryside. That's where all the eligible bachelors (of the perfect kind) are at. You'll be fighting them off!

For the past 8 years Rosie Hopkins has worked as an auxiliary nurse in London and has been living with a guy who treats her like his servant. In a nutshell Rosie is a doormat waiting patiently for Mr Nasty to pop the question.  Being so kind and caring her mum persuades her to go to Lipton, a country village, to take care of a great aunt she barely knows who owns a neglected traditional sweet shop.  At first Great Aunt Lillian is resentful towards Rosie. Do you think that will continue? Or will they become close?

There is a sub-plot where the narrative moves back to the 1940s (when Lillian was in her late teens and met the love of her life) and forward to present day (when Lillian is elderly, lonely and no longer able to cope on her own). The sole purpose being to explain how she ended up a 'spinster'.  Could it be her stubborn disposition? Her treatment of Henry mirrors Anne Shirley's (of Green Gables) towards Gilbert Blythe..

Lipton is full of annoying stereotypes and everyone who drives owns a Ranger Rover (yes, I know it's supposed to be funny).  There is the posh lady of the manor, the old unmarried aunt, the cranky farmer's wife and the hen-pecked farmer, the rugged handsome farmer's hand, the kind young handsome GP (family doctor), the dashing handsome patient who is an aristocrat and needs looking after.  Thank goodness Rosie is a nurse (albeit auxiliary).  How ever did handsome GP manage before because there are no nurses in Lipton and he makes good use of Rosie.  Like Anne Shirley she gets into many scrapes but, in the end, she has the Midas touch and (almost) everyone seems to think the town is a better place thanks to her.

Unlike Anne Shirley, Rosie Hopkins is the complete  opposite to the strong female protagonist. She has the audacity to come up with this: "...before remembering she was a modern professional woman and liking a pinnie was betraying the sisterhood."  Her thoughts on buying a new apron. This from a woman whose only ambition in life is to become someone's wife, because we all know as far as the sisterhood is concerned becoming 'Mrs Whatever' is all that matters, and to still be a 'Miss Nobody' at 31 is shameful.

How will Rosie fulfil her true purpose in life?  Who will she end up with? The farmer's hand (not likely)  the doctor or the aristocrat? It doesn't take a genius to guess. (I think the author sees Rosie as a modern day Elizabeth Bennett - I don't think so.) And what will happen with the other two men? Don't worry about them. There is a Hollywood ending for everyone.

If this entire story was set in the 1940s (like the story of how aunt Lilian ended up alone), then I would go along with it, but this is the 21st century! Women have fought to come a long way from the days of Elizabeth Bennett, i.e. needing a man to marry. Thankfully these days it's a personal choice and there is no shame in a woman being single regardless of age.

This novel owes a debt to Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, but fails to meet the standard of all three. There is something sinister about this book (I take it the portrayal of the vegan mother is meant to be funny but I found it judgemental and mean).

This novel served to reinforce my dislike of 'Chick Lit'.  My advice is give it a miss and read You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane instead. It covers a similar subject, but with intelligence and wit.

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