Chaperones. After all, the book takes place in England, one of my favorite places to visit, Instead, I couldn't quite get behind the main character and her unreasonable phobias and anxieties. Indeed, I wasn't drawn to a single character in the book.
Andrea Lieberman is a thoroughly neurotic individual, afraid of the slightest possible danger (walking the streets, visiting churches, using the underground railway system, etc.). When her boyfriend pops the question, Andrea hesitates to accept his proposal because she has taken on a six-month photography position with a travel magazine, in the hopes of conquering some of her fears and proving her independence. The assignment will take her overseas to England.
Andrea doesn't simply feel anxious about new experiences, she displays over-the-top anxiety about almost every basic life experience. She attributes her level of anxiety to her over-protective upbringing claiming "being the only child of a teacher and a pediatrician meant I would forever be suffocated with attention." I couldn't quite accept that such individuals would nurture the extreme anxieties Andrea experiences. She claims she was "taught to fear everything that could be considered risky even by Sesame Street standards." Indeed, the main character is paralyzed with a myriad of phobias that seem unbelievable. Yet, at the same time, she imbibes like a madwoman. How could an individual, afraid of her own shadow, allow herself to be out-of-control in drunkenness so frequently?
Usually, I enjoy tid-bits of British quirks and traits, but in this book, it felt forced ... like the author sat down with a list of every uniquely British encounter she had ever had and attempted to fit them into the manuscript (typical British expressions, different pronunciations, common touristy experiences, etc.) I suppose, a young reader who has never experienced travel in Britain might enjoy these details, but for me, it was tiresome and over-emphasized. I guess I just wish the travelogue details had been conveyed more seamlessly, with the story-line superseding the colloquialisms.
Moreover, the writing was clumsy and pretentious. Here is an example of two especially grating sentences describing yet another beer-fest:
"After a short while, however, the tables ranneth over with empty glasses, the ratio of cups to people reaching ten to one, and the noise level in the room, which had intensified in direct proportion to the sampling, had reached an intolerable level. Once we were so buzzed that lifting a cup to our lips was as laborious as highway ditch-digging and the smell of the room was that of a frat house the morning after a kegger, we wandered several feet to a hideous pub, the Whispering Billy Goat, which I thought would be more aptly named The Flagellating Skunk."
The point-of-view shifted back and forth from first-person to omniscient. No doubt, the author wished to wrangle both the intimacy of the use of "I" with the ability to convey the thoughts and motivations of all the characters simultaneously. Thus, one minute the reader is inside the protagonist's head and the next minute they are learning things the protagonist could not possibly be privy to (like the actions and thoughts of the parents and chaperones).
I'm guessing the extremes kept me from appreciating the novel fully. The protagonist is not anxious, she is neurotic. The photo shoots don't simply go wrong, they explode into constant mayhem. The chaperones are stereotypical and the progress of their relationship fully anticipated. So, despite my desire to embrace this novel, I ended with a sour taste in my mouth. The cover was enticing; the story less so. At least it stirred fond memories of my own travels in Britain.