PrologueLast year I started experimenting with audiobooks during my commute. I tried downloading audiobooks to my phone, but the system our library uses didn't sync up right with my phone, much to my frustration. I was driving our old truck, which only has radio, so I checked out a single-book Playaway from the library, borrowed my kid's headphones, and listened Columbine that way. I started Life After Life, then the headphone conked out, so I wound up reading the rest of the book with my eyes instead, but I'd liked the way listening pulled me into more challenging stories, not to mention the way it made my commute melt away.
This summer the kids and I started listening to CDs in the car, and when the school year started, I quietly kept on taking the car to work instead of the truck. I also got my very own headphones for my birthday this summer, and could also listen to Playaways or books downloaded to my phone. I listened to Finnikin of the Rock, part of Leviathan, and had started listening to One Plus One when the Winemaker started making polite hints that he'd like to be able to use his car sometimes.
I explained the whole books-on-CD thing, and he said, "I have a bunch of credits on Audible--do you want them?"
I'm too much of a cheapskate to have my own Audible account. Nearly thirty bucks for just one book doesn't make financial sense when you read as much as I do. My husband, however, doesn't really enjoy reading full length books, so he'd gotten an account in order to access some books that had been recommended to him. He'd gotten a year's account but only downloaded a few books, so he had plenty of credits left.
I've downloaded Crooked Kingdom for a re-read in the future, and I'm considering adding Walk On Earth a Stranger, a book I've been oddly reluctant to pick up and read despite LOVING Carson's fantasy trilogy. And in the meantime, I'm still listening to One Plus One
The Actual Post Begins Here
I'm a speed reader, for lack of a better term. It's just how I read. As such, I'm a bit spoiled in terms of getting through books quickly. I don't need to remember much over time, because it rarely takes me more than 1-3 sittings to complete a book. Listening to a book slows me W A Y D O W N. Sometimes that is quite frustrating. But for some reason, I'm really enjoying the effect it's having on One Plus One. It's taking a book that I would have sped through and giving me time to think about it. On the surface, it's all fluff and romance, but by slowing my pace, I'm noticing other layers and the author's skill.
I'd seen that cover all over the place last year, and actually ended up reading Me Before You just because that was what was in when I tried to locate 1 + 1 at the library. It's since been superseded by that younger sister of a book, and I did not have any idea what the older book was about when I started listening.
At first I was all, "Ooh, multiple narrators, nice. Oooh, adult and child perspectives, awesome." Then we hit Nicky's first chapter, and it's one sentence long, and I was all, "Ooh, that was unexpected, nicer yet!"
And when the two main characters meet, it feels rather Pride and Prejudice. He thinks she's basically beneath his notice. She thinks he's an insufferable snob, and an asshole to boot. Their second meeting opens the door for a more human interaction, and then Jess makes a surprisingly dark decision. Rom-coms depend on the willful misunderstandings and ridiculous secrets, but the secret she's keeping from Ed is truly something bad. But at the same time, the reader understands completely why she did what she did, so it doesn't just feel like a plot device in order to give them something to fight about in the third act.
Ed, looking at Jess's life from the outside, sees a constant roil of drama, bad decisions, and unwarranted drama. And if you look at it from most angles, he's right. But at the same time, once she got pregnant at 17, she started making tough choices and struggling to make things right. The drama isn't self-involved or willfully created. Making sensible choices, having a safety net, doing things logically--all of these are shown to be a matter of privilege, not of character. It's a surprisingly blunt look at class. I keep thinking, even if this turns into some sort of Pretty Woman scenario (she humanizes him; he rescues her from a life of squalor), it's not going to wrap things up with a pretty bow. Even if the Fischers get their come-uppance, other neighborhoods will be victims to equally horrible bullies. Even if Nick and Tansy get more security and brighter futures, it won't change things for all of their classmates and all of their peers world wide, who deserve those things just as much.
There's a scene in which software mogul Ed tells the family about a program in the works which will let everyone pay for everything with their phone, at the minimal cost of .01 cents on the dollar (or pound). He generously estimates it will cost less than 200 pounds per year, a negligible amount. Jess asks math-savant Tansy what that amount of money means to their family, and her answer (9.2 days of groceries, one rather crummy camping holiday, school clothes and shoes at bargain basement prices) brings home the point that this "negligible" amount is enough to dump them entirely over the edge from "lower middle class" to "poor." The point is made in other ways throughout the book, but enumerated in Tansy's clear voice, it really hits home.
Speaking of the narration, I really like Tansy's voice, and if Ed's narrator veers into caricature territory with his take on Ed's Italian ex-wife, well, she's sort of written that way. I'm still not done with the book, and I find myself both looking forward to some sort of happy ending for the characters and bracing myself for some reality as well.