Here is a list of reasons why I didn’t like this book:
· Plot what plot: A woman named Penny has a boring, loveless relationship with her constantly-travelling husband. She gets a job, falls for a man at said job, is in complete denial about her feelings. Makes out with said man, gets mad at man when he tries to talk about their relationship. Gets mad when he tries to get some distance from her. Gets mad when he gets engaged. Ends up being friends with this man, and going back to boring husband. Do the characters grow through this year? Are there lessons learned? Do we ship for anyone ever? Are there any conflicts worth caring about? Nope, nope, so much of the nope.
· Boring main character: Penny is a caricature of all the horrible tropes that we hope we never see in a woman anywhere. Doesn’t have any strong, healthy friendships, doesn’t like her own company, has no habits or interests to bolster herself up, can’t maintain interesting conversations, has no smart opinions, and is overall such a pointless person that it’s amazing that she’s the protagonist of a whole novel, much less the side character in a zombie apocalypse story who gets eaten first, sparing us all her annoying presence.
· Misogyny everywhere: Our protagonist judges all other females constantly, has no strong friendships with other women, can barely stand to be civil to her mother or sister in law, indulges in casual misogyny almost constantly, believes women are responsible for keeping a man in a relationship happy, judges the hero for reading a ‘girly book’.. I could go on and on, but I won’t, because such ingrained sexism and patriarchy is exhausting to deal with, and I just can’t.
· Pointless love interests: Both Penny’s husband and the guy she likes are so tedious that it’s amazing that she is conflicted about choosing between them. What even is the appeal? Her husband barely appears, unless it’s to fight so horribly with his wife that he wilfully breaks apart the one guitar that she actually loves. The love interest, Kabir, is the most unremarkable, lacklustre character ever. It’s hard to feel much about his existence, much less ship them with our heroine. In a story where the main point is the conflict in love, the story spectacularly crashes and burns.
· Poor chemistry: I get that complex, well-written relationships, even about adultery, can be amazing, can be literature worth analysing and praising. Even though I feel strongly about how horrible adultery is, one of my favourite novels is about a love triangle, and a couple which breaks up because of the adulterous wife. But though Love, Etc. could also be said to be about relationships and nothing else, it still says everything it needs to says about narratives of choice and the complications of love in such beautiful ways. In this story, unfortunately, there is no explicable pull between Penny and Kabir, two unremarkable characters who do less falling in love and more spending time with each other because they’re bored and apparently can’t make good life decisions. Where’s the spark, the chemistry, that undeniable pull so that you want to look away even as you know they’re going to crash together? What makes Penny want to be with Kabir even though she knows she shouldn’t? Absolutely nothing.
· Really, really bad writing: Can’t stress this enough. And I mean this in more ways than one: bad in terms of sentence structure and flow, and also really, really poor in terms of the words themselves. At one point in the story the word ‘you’ is written as ‘u’. ‘Nough said.
· Crazy punctuation: The misuse of commas is insane. I understand that commas are a pretty subjective thing; as an editor, the fights I fight are less about spelling – although those do happen – but more about punctuation. Commas are the bane of my existence day in and day out, so to see them used in so horrific a manner does something to my insides, and not in a good way either. I had to fight the itch to take a red pen and start crossing them out.
The bad stuff went one and on: our characters make fun of people with disabilities, with the word ‘retard’ used as an insult almost constantly. There is barely any complexity to motivations for why people do things. The romance is lacklustre. You are, of course, welcome to read the book itself to ensure that all the things I’ve mentioned are actually true. Usually I quote direct passages from anything I review to provide a reference point or some proof of what I’m talking about, but having read this book once, I could not inflict upon myself the sort of torture required to go through it again looking for extracts. I mean, even masochism must have its limits.
If you had to grade this novel on a curve, it’s slightly better than the worst thing I’ve ever read. But being slightly than the actual worst doesn’t actually make anything better. Please, do yourself a favour, and stay far away.