Penguin, £4.99, ISBN 0-1410-0095-3
Contemporary Fiction, 2001
Game Over is a welcome relief from the usual Bridget Jones clones those British female authors keep popping out like zits. This is one story that doesn’t start with a heroine being dumped, evicted, and sacked in the first chapter. Eat dust, Bridget Jones, meet Jocasta Perry, who for the first 200 pages of this story can pee all over that neurotic whiner’s pantyhoses.
Cas is a die-hard cynic when it comes to love. She only goes for married or engaged men, refusing to be like her mother who couldn’t move past her husband’s infidelity. Cas will hurt, not be hurt. Hence this woman is always the first to leave after a one-night stand. Hard, brittle, and totally mercenary, this woman makes a career out of breaking men’s hearts. And why not? Her best friend Josh does the same, sleeping with half of London’s women and breaking hearts, so why not she? Her best girlfriend Issie is a completely different story – she’s always getting hurt by men.
And if you think Temptation Isle the all-time low in TV, wait until you see Cas’s brainwave: Sex with an Ex. Here, one half of an engaged couple can apply to the show to get the other half’s ex to tempt the other half. The result will be shown on live TV. Ultra humiliation on both parties. Naturally, everyone can’t fight to get on the show fast enough, and Cas’s career skyrockets.
Then she meets Darren, an ex who is so proper, a firm believer in fidelity, marriage, and family, she can’t help but to fall hard. Oh dear.
For the first 200 pages, Game Over is a masterpiece as it ruthlessly rips apart all the Bridget Jones clones that are its rivals in the market. Every whiny insecurity Bridget Jones and her clones have ranted, whinged, and binged on and on is mocked, punctured, and run down by Cas’s brilliant, sardonic, and sometimes even cruel sense of humor. Office sexual politics? Cas just watch as those stupid young women justify why they are sleeping with aging, lecherous bosses and shakes her head. “Advice,” she tells me, “by its very nature, is there to be ignored.”
And her mocking all those happy couples who willingly subject themselves to the humiliating experience of her show is right on spot, as well as her observations about men who won’t commit and women who just keep falling for them in some self-destructive cycle. Game Over is like a bible of follies most heroines of “happier” British pop-lit commit yet refuse to acknowledge.
Then this one stabs itself in its chest. The author decides maybe she wants Cas to be Bridget Jones after all. When Cas falls for Darren (after a thoroughly insulting “heroine holds a baby in her hands and is transformed completely” phase), she loses all self-respect. Worse, for Cas to have her happy ending with Darren, she has to lose her job, her pride, her best friends, and her life. In this one, love isn’t a celebration, it is a paralysis that makes a woman completely dependent on the man’s whims and mercy.
The dark humor of the story isn’t over at this point, far from it, but now the author is using Cas as the blunt of the jokes. Hereon, the story becomes a cruel, sadistic all-time humiliation network story, and I need to fortify myself with a strong drink to go on.
And most insulting of all, Darren is such a bore. A man who sends his woman webpages in her mailbox and prefers to drink beer and belch during a football game – that’s Darren, a man the formerly brainy Cas is getting all dumb and embarrassed totally for. I look at Josh, smart, witty and polished Josh, and I put my forehead at the table. I start out thinking this story a keeper, but my opinion is revised entirely by the last page. Poor Cas, the victim of the author’s own inability to make up her mind whether she wants to conform or be the outstanding odd one out.
A moment’s silence for the yet another passing of an intelligent heroine in the British lit scene. And they say women’s fiction gets no respect? No wonder.