The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reviewing this book is proving quite challenging.
It’s “Romance or Erotica” month in the UK Bookclub Genre Challenge and I think it was immediately clear that I was out of my depth, it was finally time to face up to my literary blindspot.
Initially I planned to read ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen or ‘Evelina’ by Frances Burney but, as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was the only romance novel I could remember reading, Emma seemed like a bit of a cheat and a few pages into Evelina I found I just wasn’t in the mood for it.
What about a contemporary romance? This was certainly new territory but I was tempted, if only because I’d recently read some of Jodi Taylor’s fantasy novels and something about her first romance novel caught my eye:
A character named Jen who finds communicating with others beyond difficult, is overly invested in her imaginary world, cripplingly anxious, seems a bit mad and has a beautiful love rival named Francesca.
*awkward cough from my inner 17 year old*
I don’t want to sound like a narcissist but if I didn’t get on with a book with this heroine, I probably wasn’t going to click with this genre at all.
So what about the book itself?
‘The Nothing Girl’ is a book of two very different halves. I’m rarely surprised by a plot twist but I honestly didn’t see this one coming, amazing job Jodi Taylor.
I found the first half of this book incredibly frustrating; the characters seemed nonsensical, a bit wet, I couldn’t work out where Taylor was going with them. I kept reading because it was a book club challenge and figured I’d just give it 1* at the end. I got the feeling there was some degree of pastiche that I might have understood and potentially enjoyed if I was a regular romance reader, but in my limited experience I just wasn’t getting it. The central relationship seemed to purposefully refer to elements that I’d associate with a classic romance: an element of financial transaction, inheritance, infantilisation of women, the shock of a woman without a chaperone and (the reference that even I could identify) the mad woman in the attic. I wondered if maybe this was the whole point of the book and maybe I was ill-equipped to get the most out of it.
The book I was expecting to read ended about half way through and I wondered what all those extra chapters were for. This is when the book got really good.
In the second half the book becomes interesting, then exciting and finally absolutely gripping. Taylor managed to create some kind of beautiful Thriller-Cosy-Romance-English-Countryside genre fusion.
I’m not sure how common this multidimensionality is in modern romance, but ‘The Nothing Girl’ has definitely persuaded me to give this genre another go. Maybe I’ll even get over my apprehension and join the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club, which I’ve secretly wanted to do since reading ‘You’re Never Weird on the Internet’.
If you’re not sure whether this book is for you (and don’t mind a few small spoilers) I’d recommend trying the short story ‘Little Donkey’, which is currently free on audible. It features the same characters and showcases Taylor’s writing but falls more into the romance/humor category.
Pleasantly surprised by my first contemporary romance!
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