True love repeatedly rescues a lost soul in this thin debut romance.
Young Ben Johnson wants to be a Royal Air Force pilot just like his dad, but when a bullet ends his father’s life in Bosnia, he instead becomes a teenage delinquent, seemingly destined for a life of crime—and perpetual rudeness to his long-suffering mum. Then one night, while he’s selling dope to posh partygoers, he happens upon a young woman named Daniela and instantly knows that “this girl [is] going to change my life.” She has bright green eyes and teeth that “shine like diamonds” and are “white as pearls,” according to two of the text’s oddly obsessive hymns to her dental radiance. Unlike his usual girlfriends, Daniela is “polite, smart and beautiful,” insists that Ben treat his mother decently and suggests that he do more with his life than peddle drugs. But although Daniela does seem like a nice girl, she’s also bland and forgettable, with nothing much to her beyond “perfect teeth” and civilized attitudes. Her romance with Ben is often an exercise in banality as they go sightseeing in London, eat roast beef and mashed potatoes, spend a lovely Christmas with her parents, kiss in the park, shop at the mall and so on. The more Ben insists that he is “the luckiest man in the world to have her only for myself,” the more readers may tire of their tedious idylls. Tragedy eventually separates the soul mates and sends Ben off to the military, where he wrestles with a classic, if hackneyed, romantic dilemma: Should he cling to a lost, ideal love or embrace a new one? The novel’s prose has a saccharine yet drably expository tone (“Daniela had loved Mrs. Frost’s snowflake necklace when we watched Batman and Robin, starring George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger”). At its best, the story extracts pathos from its characters’ bereavement and loneliness, but more often, readers may feel like it’s flying on autopilot.
An ultimately uninvolving love story.