If you’re looking for redeeming social value in your fiction, you won’t find any in Talking to Addison. But if you want a good laugh after a tough day at the office, it may be just what you need. Jenny Colgan’s sophomore effort had me chuckling out loud due to the heroine’s unerring ability to find herself in bizarre predicaments.
Holly Livingstone has bad luck with men - well, who doesn’t in post-Bridget Jones London? But she is also incapable of finding the right place to live. She has suffered through the Turkish Lesbian Women’s Collective, the religious cult that didn’t allow men over the threshold, and most recently the cleaning freaks who wanted to know how often Holly boil-washed the crockery. So Holly begs her old friend Josh to let her rent a tiny casket-size room in his Pimlico house. In addition to nice but sexually confused Josh, Holly’s new flatmates are career-driven, uptight Kate and computer geek Addison, who stays holed up in his room. This is just too much of a challenge for Holly, who never leaves well enough alone, and she starts on a single-minded campaign to meet the mysterious genius. When she comes face to face with Addison, and realizes he is shy but gorgeous, she decides that he is her Mr. Right. But Addison has his own good reasons for avoiding the rest of the human race, and when Holly breaks through his shell, she creates a nearly irrevocable mess.
Jenny Colgan, a former journalist and stand-up comedienne, knows how to turn a deft turn of phrase and create a humorous scene. Added to my collection of unforgettable British phrases is her description of Finn, a physicist friend of Kate’s who plays a surprisingly large role in Holly’s life considering that he is a “spawny pervy speccy git.” Finn is later compared to Paddington Bear “without the raw sex appeal.” Much of the novel’s humor relies on the mismatch between 29-year-old Holly and Chalitha, her 19-year-old coworker at “That Special Someone” floral shop, who is unapologetically trying to sleep her way to success as a rock band singer. You mean even a Gen X’er can feel old and stodgy sometimes? Maybe there’s hope for this aging Baby Boomer.
In true Brit Chick Lit fashion, Holly is torn between two men, but instead of a mean (but cute) guy vs. a nice (but ordinary) guy, we have the delightful choice between an agoraphobic computer geek, and a physics geek who lives for something called the String Theory. Geeks rule! Hard to imagine why either of them would be interested in the less-than-intellectual Holly, but this is fiction after all.
There’s little or no character development, just hilarious situations based on the flatmates’ personalities. Kate’s obsession with married men reaches its apogee when she gives her latest lover her home number, office number, mobile, car phone, pager, e-mail and fax number (as Holly remarks drolly, “I think we’re just going to have to wait for the law of averages to kick in, whereby he misdials another number, and gets you”). Josh insists he’s not gay - but why does he know all of the words to HMS Pinafore? And Holly remains cheerfully self-centered and unambitious from start to finish.
A somewhat gruesome, slapstick twist temporarily sobers up the plot - but then leads to bizarrely funny hospital hijinks with a Nazi physician, an elderly patient who may be God and an unforgettable climax that includes television reporters, ambitious politicians, and the most shocking Christmas songs ever heard in July. You won’t want to miss it.
Don’t be misled by the picture of the computer mouse on the cover - there are no cute e-mails or other on-line shenanigans in Talking to Addison. But there are enough good-natured laughs and a happy enough ending to remind you that the real world is much more entertaining than anything you’ll find on a computer.