When I’m looking for instant gratification by filtering VPL’s ebook collection by “Available Now”, I often see Lucy Holliday’s A Night in with Audrey Hepburn. Little did I know it was a trilogy until I saw the second volume, starring Marilyn Monroe and then I finally saw A Night in with Grace Kelly (2016).
Audrey Hepburn is Audrey Hepburn. I’ve watched her top five movies, four of them just once and My Fair Lady I have watched countless times. I think it was my mother who introduced us to that movie and thus Audrey Hepburn. Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve watched a single Marilyn Monroe movie. Yet, I’m so familiar with them as style and cultural icons.
As for Grace Kelly, who is she? She’s the American actress who married the Prince of Monaco and thus became a princess. I may have watched the version of Rear Window she was in, but then again I may not have. Come to think of it, my mother may have named herself after Grace Kelly.
So, knowing that I could stand to learn about Grace Kelly (ha!) and that it was the concluding volume in a fantastical series, I decided to give it a try. It was still shortly after reading Jeremy Grimaldi’s grim A Daughter’s Deadly Deception since I had breezed through Neel Shah and Skye Chatham’s Read Bottom Up so quickly. It also happens to be the year of the royal wedding where a British prince will wed an American actress!
You know me and chick lit/rom coms. I can hardly let loose and am groaning nearly immediately. I scanned some reviews of the the earlier novels (that’s not a spoiler) making comparison to Bridget Jones, that is, Dillon is Daniel Cleaver and Olly is Mark Darcy. Aw, darn, then it’s so derivative. I saw the Bridget Jones rip-offs everywhere. From Libby falling over herself, blathering to Olly, “You look perfect, Olly, just the way you are,” to Dillon’s Cleaver-esque non-sentimental text message to Libby on her wedding day, “I bet you make make a fucking hot bride, Fire Girl. Have a wonderful day, sweetheart x”. And there’s Olly’s perfect girlfriend Tash who is not even named differently from Mark Darcy’s colleague Natasha who makes Libby/Bridget feel inadequate: “…she’s in there with Clara now, running point between the doctors and Olly’s family, in a way that I’d never manage to do. I can’t even get Clara to smile at me, for Christ’s sake. And she’s the sort of grown-up, properly sorted individual who doesn’t need any silly romance, any hearts and flowers, when she gets engaged to be married.”
So, the author is British and uses some slang appropriate to her characters train of thought. A lot of it I barely noticed but it grated on me to see phrases like “bung on some lipstick” in the context of hastily performing the task and twice when she used the “C word” – the one highly offensive to Chinese people. It was early on and I thought I might quit reading there and then. These were the instances: “I can see a tiny little c**** of light here,” and “I c**** my glass against his”. Noooo!!! Doesn’t she have an editor? Maybe it’s not nearly a big deal in the UK. Maybe they are so myopic. I mean, the cast of characters was hardly diverse with the exception of half-Brazilian Joel.
I also noticed a few tropes that bugged me and felt like supremely lazy writing. One was the persistent description of Olly as being scruffy. That’s supposed to be a good thing – he’s so natural, he’s so comfortable to be with, he’s so ruggedly, effortlessly handsome. “His usually-scruffy hair is … well, it’s still fighting its natural scruffiness, to be honest, but it looks eminently touchable…” Another is the Moldovan character Bogdan. How researched is this character or is it just schtick comedy to have the excuse to have malapropisms and upside down grammar? “‘You are thinking I am looking like Clark Gable?’ Bogdan looks dazed for a moment. ‘This is true, true compliment for me, Miss Kelly. Am whelmed over. Am smacked in gob.'” Reviews would indicate that Bogdan is a really memorable character and he has been with Libby from the first novel. But the havoc his eccentric Aunt Vanya wrecked and smack talk about Voltan seems marginally racist to me. Or, I don’t have a sense of humour.
Finally, for aggravating peripheral characters, there was Libby’s C- (or D-)rated actress sister Cass and her vapid mother who gives her sole attention to the daughter who is more prolific. When they realize who Libby is dating, they sing a truly different tune.The mother does a complete about-face which is sad to say in the least. The sister was kind of funny in that she was at the core supportive but not really empathetic and suggested Libby secure Joel the way she would have – offering any kind of sex he wanted on the table. But it’s chick lit and the final volume of a trilogy so they are both redeemed at the end.
On to the meat of the story. In a chance encounter – a meet-cute where she is haplessly klutzy and has fallen on the street – Libby meets Joel. She assumes he’s a regular guy and he goes along with it but after one date, she learns he’s a tech billionaire and she feels hoodwinked and wants to exit the relationship. He is quite incredulously in love with free-wheeling Libby and after four months of dating, they are engaged and set to be married after six months of dating. “Yes, this is how ludicrous my life has become since I accepted Joel’s proposal two months ago: I can now correctly identify the smell of helicopter fuel.” The novel skipped from just after their second date to a few days before the wedding and the cracks are showing in a big way.
To drive home how wrong the relationship is, Libby seems completely ill-prepared for the life change about to occur by being married to a billionaire. With just two months and she’s not the most organized individual, she could be excused to be overwhelmed and still caught in the whirlwind. At the same time, she’s obviously not keen enough on the relationship to differentiate between Joel’s two assistants whose names begin with R. Her ignorance of current affairs and lack of opinion portray her as a ditz not suited for entering Joel’s circle. And her reluctance to head Joel’s philanthropic foundation was a huge gap in expectations between the two of them.
When news broke that Meghan Markle would be giving up acting and moving to England and being a modern-day royal (who have demanding jobs, too), I read a cynical article written to set us straight that what seems like progress – a British royal marrying an older, self-made woman who happens to be biracial, American and a divorcee – has equal elements of throwback including her giving up her giving up her whole career to join a highly conformist institution. Libby wanting to continue her jewelry design business seemed admirable but she was quite terrified of the scale of the role offered to her in the foundation.
Joel at this stage of his career is not able to do everything himself and he has a team, a person for everything and probably is hardly left alone. Libby was not remotely ready for this change in her life. Maybe not so much the spouse of every billionaire, but I’ve learned to appreciate from successful Instagrammers (like Wendy Nguyen of Wendy’s Lookbook and Aimee Song of Song of Style) that they become a brand and there’s a team of people whose job is to propagate this brand consistently. It’s the peril of being in influencer, a modern-day royal, a celebrity. Similarly but on a much larger scale, A-list celebrities are also brands and not independent agents such that I’m wary that much left is sincere and especially for musicians, that music attributed to them is really their own design any longer. I am almost off-topic but all it means is – tsk tsk – Libby is showing her naïveté and lack of foresight being as much the deer caught in headlights as she is.
Finally, there is Grace Kelly. Not knowing much about her going in, I didn’t perceive that much of a personality off her. Grace Kelly was in a position to offer advice about marrying into money and evaluating that against marrying for love. I didn’t think she had a particularly strong voice but it was lovely to see her played off against Libby’s other magical couch visitors when they visited Libby in her time of most need and reflected the different aspects of her life and her options. That was a fun grand finale to cap off the series!