Making Minty Malone by Isabel Wolff
(Onyx, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-40925-6
****
Once you get past the fact that the heroine's name sounds like a new brand of toothpaste, you'll find that Making Minty Malone is one of the more successful entries in the British literary invasion that started with Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary. I'm one happy reader these days, let me tell you. Many of these British romantic comedies are more enjoyable than American love-and-laughter contemporary romances. They're humorous, but not as goofy as their American counterparts. The authors tend to include subplots about the heroine's friends and/or work life instead of concentrating exclusively on the romance. The result: a more well-rounded novel with the same happy ending

This novel follows a year in the life of Araminta "Minty" Malone, starting with her wedding day. The reader senses that disaster lurks around the corner, as Minty spends the first several pages rhapsodizing over the virtues of her fiancÚ, Dominic. Never mind the fact that he tried to sell her insurance the first time they met, that he is a controlling snob without an intelligent thought in his head - she's overjoyed because he wants to marry her. Or does he? In front of 280 guests, when asked the crucial question by the minister, Dominic suddenly decides that he can't go through with it, and hightails his way out of the church. Minty is left without a clue about the reason for this unexpected humiliation on what should have been the best day of her life.

Unable to find her errant bridegroom, Minty goes on her honeymoon trip with her best friend Helen instead. When she returns, she has to cope with an unexpected roommate - her cousin Amber, who has also been dumped by her boyfriend and knows that Minty won't turn her away. Minty also has to weather the reactions of her co-workers at London FM, a talk radio station, where she researches and reports news stories while making the bubble-headed presenter look good. Minty, you see, is a Nice Person. She can't bear to hurt anyone's feelings or turn down a request for help. But when she decides to take an Assertiveness Training class, and runs into the handsome novelist she met while on her miserable honeymoon, it may be time to toss her Nice Persona in the trash can. It's time for Minty to take a stand for herself and fight for her own love and happiness.

Minty starts off the novel as someone you'd expect to be jilted at the altar - nice, but self-apologetic and willing to let people walk all over her. The fun is watching her learn to stand up for herself, so that she gets everything she deserves, and more, by the end. Her first-person narrative is chatty and intimate without too much rambling.

The novel is greatly enriched by its interesting secondary characters, especially Minty's cousin Amber, a self-centered author whose books are excruciatingly god-awful. Not only does Amber get her comeuppance by the end of the novel, but she also reforms and finds her own happily-ever-after, including a job that truly suits her. Then there's Minty's mum, the bizarrely named Dympna, a "philanthropoholic" who is addicted to fund-raising for every social cause under the sun. Minty's work nemesis, Melinda, owes her job to sheer nepotism, and doesn't hesitate to treat everyone like dirt despite her total ineptitude. She, too, gets what's coming to her, although her final fate proves that lack of talent can go a long way in some businesses (hint: think Jerry Springer).

After a somewhat slow start, the book jumps into high gear and doesn't let up. The two best scenes occur towards the end of the novel, when Minty has reached the point where she doesn't take sh*t from anybody. In the first, Minty and Amber cause a minor riot in Los Angeles, where they have flown on a whim to rescue Minty's love life. The second occurs at the book's climax, when Minty's personal and professional lives collide during an unforgettable radio call-in show.

Unfortunately, Isabel Wolff has only written two novels to date (The Trials of Tiffany Trott was her debut), but I'll keep my eyes open for future releases. If, like me, you're captivated by these funny British ladies (and you think Bridget Jones is overrated), you might want to try some of these authors: Katie Fforde, Marian Keyes, Kathy Jewell, Jane Green and Wendy Holden.

--Susan Scribner


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