Setting: London. Character: hip young woman. Conflict: boyfriend trouble. Sound familiar? Still, this latest Brit-chick-lit saga gets a serious spin from the popular Maxted.
Á la her previous outings (Running in Heels, 2001, etc.), blending a smart, chatty narrative with a weighty problem—a parent’s death one time, anorexia another—Maxted here tackles date rape. Holly, 29, has a house in London, a diabetic cat, and a new business (a dating service for young hipsters called Girl Meets Boy) that seems to be headed toward grand success. Of course, there’s one problem: ex-fiancé Nick won’t move out. Having split because Nick just won’t grow up (he’s charming, kind, and funny and works as Mr. Elephant at children’s birthday parties), Holly is hoping he’ll get the hint when she goes on a date with Stuart, a Girl Meets Boy client. But things go terribly wrong and Stuart rapes Holly on her kitchen floor just as Nick arrives home. But was it rape? Holly, traumatized, decides it didn’t seem like rape (no gun or dark alley, and, for heaven’s sake, Stuart drives a Mercedes), and so it must have been bad sex. Nick moves out, but Holly’s denial creates a host of problems: depression, anger, fear. So Holly walks around her own house with a kitchen knife and gets a panic attack at the thought of grocery shopping. Her friends—outlandish aristocrat Rachel (who, Holly suspects, is having an affair with her sister’s husband), theatrical Nige (who works for Holly while awaiting stardom), baby sister Claudia—can’t understand why Holly is letting her business (and friendships and whole worldview) fall apart. When Holly finally blows the whistle on Stuart, she begins to heal, but not before Stuart sues for defamation of character and Nick (who was still stuck on Holly) breaks it off for good. Never fear: a happy ending is in sight, but Maxted makes her characters work for it.
The heavy subject aside: a funny, breezy read.