by Kieran Kramer, historical (2010)
St Martin's Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-312-61164-4
Kieran Kramer's debut effort When Harry Met Molly is a romantic comedy with a farcical bent. In a way, I can somewhat agree with comparisons of this author's style to Julia Quinn's in that Julia Quinn's earlier efforts featured some notable amount of slapstick comedy. But When Harry Met Molly ramps up the farcical elements, so much so that this is definitely a story which requires you to adjust your expectations accordingly before you turn to page one.
Harry Traemore and Mary "Molly" Fairbanks are not exactly best friends, not since Molly read aloud, during the Christmas ball, a poem with the names thinly disguised that exposed her sister Penelope's fooling around with Harry when Penelope was engaged to marry Harry's brother. Not much harm was done as a result the dramatic recital and the impromptu boxing match that broke out between the two Traemore brothers, although Harry was banished to the military while Molly was sent off to a school far away from her family.
When the story really gets going, both Molly and Harry are adults. Of course, they may be adults, but psychologically they seem to teenagers still. Molly plans to elope with some guy for reasons only another intellectually-challenged romance heroine can fathom, while Harry is still moping about the fact that he's a spare and his father doesn't seem to love him as much as his brother. When Harry's mistress decamps, Harry needs a replacement ASAP or else he will lose the wager devised by some fat bloke called Prinny (you may have heard of him) and be forced to marry a woman chosen by the members of his Band of Sequel Bait Brotherhood club. Really, don't ask. The whole thing is ridiculous, so you best read it yourself instead of putting me in the awkward position of having to explain it to you. Anyway, guess whom he decides will be an ideal fake mistress, and guess what happens when he schools Molly in lessons on harlotry.
I find When Harry Met Molly a most uneven read. Some scenes have me laughing out loud, but other scenes make me cringe because I find the humor in those scenes awkward and even forced. One thing is for sure though - rampant foolishness is all over this story. Molly is "feisty", often in a negative manner, as she tends to act impulsively and even stupidly without thinking, and her actions are often passed off as something cute or precious for me to laugh at. Alas, I guess my humor detection device is somewhat impaired when it comes to this book as foolish characters tend to make me wince rather than giggle. Some elements - like Molly's determination to marry someone whom the author has pointed out clearly to me in the first chapter to be the wrong guy - are more like a test on my patience than prime comedy material.
But as childish as Molly can be, Harry actually has her beaten when it comes to being that spoiled child that never really grew up. This overgrown oaf doesn't bother to consider the repercussions of dragging Molly - the daughter of the Earl of Sutton into the pretense of being his mistress - mostly because he doesn't care about anything that doesn't revolve around his smaller head. He eventually gets a bit less childish and entitled late in the story, but it may be a case of too little too late when it comes to convincing me that he will make a good husband for the long run. Then again, the idea of these two overgrown brats reproducing is more terrifying than heartwarming.
It is also quite bizarre how Ms Kramer couldn't seem to make up her mind whether this book is a bawdy romp or a sanitized young adult story. Some scenes are definitely raunchy, but other scenes seem more at home in a Disney cartoon. Seriously, wait until you reach that part where you will discover that Harry's idea of a party game for his friends and their mistresses include a game of kissing closet. Yes, hardened rakes and their mistresses holding a party to play... this. Maybe it's true, they really do play patty cakes in the bedroom.
When Harry Met Molly is, at the end of the day, a pretty tough book for me to evaluate. Some elements are pretty intriguing - the author's narrative is engaging, the story often pokes playfully at some of the more popular historical romance tropes, and there are some decent attempts at developing the characters into something more by the last chapter. At the same time, the comedy is uneven and isn't always executed smoothly, some of the punchlines don't work, and often it is hard to determine whether the story is poking fun at a trope or embracing it in a most over-the-top and absurd manner. The best thing I can say is that this book is interesting, if only because it leaves me intrigued about what the author may throw at me in future books.
When Harry Met Molly is more about the comedy than anything else, and with comedy being what it is, this is one book that will either make you roll on the ground laughing or scratch your head in bewilderment.
This book at Amazon.com
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