Millie's Fling (by Jill Mansell)

A friend introduced me to a book by Jill Mansell some years ago, and - rather to my surprise - I enjoyed it very much. I tried another of her books some months later, and liked that too. So when I saw this one for a euro in a charity shop, despite the rather unappealing front cover (showing a dog in sunglasses and some bare legs on a garish yellow rug against a turquoise background… modern editions are much nicer) I decided to buy it.

That was over four years ago. ‘Millie’s Fling’ has sat on my to-read shelf for all that time, and I’ve never felt inclined to pull it out. But finally I did so, about a week ago, and finished it today.

It starts quite dramatically. A young woman called Millie is in a car with her boyfriend, who thinks he’s making a romantic suggestion, when she notices another woman chain-smoking and walking up and down the edge of a cliff, looking as if she’s about to jump. So Millie, abandoning her boyfriend - who’s really rather dull - goes to talk to the woman and, unsurprisingly, convinces her to re-think.

Minus one affronted boyfriend, Millie goes out with her close friend Hester, only to find an abandoned wallet. She tries a prank call on the owner, although fully intending to return it intact, and realises she’s made a major faux pas…

This seems to be the story of Millie’s life. Idealistic and kind, she finds it difficult to be tactful. However, her two good deeds, added to a sudden job loss, catapult her into a completely new set of circumstances. Suddenly she finds herself friends with a well-known writer, falling in love with an apparently unobtainable young man, and taking on a job about as far removed from her previous role as an estate agent as can possibly be imagined.

It has the trappings of a good story, with some humour at the unlikely - almost surreal - events that seem to happen to Millie. But although I kept reading, and it certainly wasn’t boring, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. This is partly because the viewpoints changed so often - sometimes within a single scene - that I never felt that I really got to know any of the characters. Everyone’s thoughts are given, only distinguished from their spoken words by the lack of quotation marks. It made me feel like an omniscient fly on the wall not just hearing a conversation but knowing the inner thoughts of both participants - thus feeling connection with neither.

Alongside this, the style is very informal. A measure of informality suits the genre of ‘chick-lit’, and I don’t particularly have a problem with that, but it doesn’t feel entirely consistent and that also made it hard to be involved. There’s a lot of action but also a great deal of introspection; I felt that the book - which is quite long, at 566 pages - could have done with significant editing.

However, my biggest problem with this - as with many others in the genre to be fair - is the assumption that people who feel any kind of physical attraction for each other will leap into bed (or some other appropriate place) at the first opportunity. Perhaps this was meant to be humorous, but I didn’t find it amusing at all, and it doesn’t match at all with anybody I’ve ever met. After the first few chapters, it became irritating; it's almost impossible to relate to people who are so shallow.

It’s a pity, because the growing friendship between Millie and the wallet-owning Hugh is nicely done, with some instances of kinship and closeness that were so much more interesting than the ‘chemistry’ between them and others. But perhaps I'm simply not in the target age-group for this book; Jill Mansell is very popular as a writer, and other reviewers elsewhere found this book both enjoyable and humorous.

I was glad, at any rate, that the author closes the door firmly on all bedroom scenes; we see people rushing upstairs (or elsewhere) with astounding frequency, but our next view happens when they emerge, dishevelled. There’s little or no bad language, either, which is refreshing in this kind of book.

Despite myself, I kept reading - often several chapters at a time, as it was so lightweight - and was pleased that the ending was predictable and satisfying.

First published in 2001, 'Millie's Fling' has been reprinted more than once, and is available for the Kindle too.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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