Little Black Dress Books, £5.99, ISBN 978-0-7553-4141-2
Contemporary Fiction, 2010
Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom is the book that resembles a chick-lit novel the most in Julie Cohen’s repertoire to date. Her previous books for this publisher are hybrids of sorts, with romance novel elements co-existing uneasily next to chick-lit tropes, but in this book, the scale tips heavily towards the chick-lit side. The hero of this story – the man that the heroine ends up with – doesn’t show up until halfway into the story, and he is in the story for merely a fraction of the entire thing. This story is all about Nina Jones running around like a headless chicken, a neurotic little cliché looking for love in all the wrong places.
Nina Jones is a PA to the famous and handsome celebrity chef Edmund Jett. He has a clientele comprising members of the royalty and stars, while Nina has stars in her eyes every time he enters her personal space. Alas, he’s happily married, and Nina doesn’t want to be a home wrecker in any way. Therefore, after succumbing to a kiss with her boss, Nina runs abroad with Juan, a chef that she’s convinced she is in love with, only to have him clean her bank account before going MIA. Fortunately for Nina, her uncle died, leaving behind an apartment for her to temporarily live in. Her neighbors are all weird kooks and Goths – hence the name Temple of Gloom being applied to the neighborhood – but things aren’t so bad. There’s a cute guy, who seems to think he’s Edward Cullen, living nearby…
This story has some fine moments of humor, but on the whole, the author is trying to do too much here. The heroine’s coming of age story is crammed into the last third or so of the book in a rushed manner, so much so that the development of her character arc is unsatisfying indeed. Too much time is spent on Nina running around doing stupid things – shopping for designer shoes when she’s broke is just the tip of the iceberg – and too little space is devoted to her coming of age. It doesn’t help that Nina does nothing to earn her happy ending. Everything falls into place for her. Boyfriend cheated her of her money? Oh look, an uncle died, leaving her a place to stay. She needed someone to love? There’s this sweet guy waiting for her. Nina needs to spend twenty years to make up her mind? She has mistreated her best friend? Everything doesn’t matter, and Nina doesn’t have to be accountable for anything here. The best friend is still willing to get back with her, the long-suffering new bloke is willing to take her back despite her treating him like a yo-yo, taking him into her bed and kicking him out again the next day. The only thing Nina has to waste significant time pondering over is which guy she wants to hook up with.
Nina isn’t too much of an unlikable heroine, mind you. The author manages to make Nina’s insecurities tolerable by giving Nina a vulnerable side that actually makes her almost human at times. It’s because Nina also doesn’t have to actually work or suffer for her nonsense here that she becomes far less endearing than she could have been. She claims that she has changed somewhat by the last page of the story, but I can only wonder whether she runs back to her new boyfriend because Edmund turns out to be available in the end and, therefore, he has lost his luster where Nina is concerned.
Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom may have been a more believable read if the author had another 200 pages to develop Nina’s self discovery arc better. As it is, this one feels rushed, like a chick-lit novel that is prematurely ended because of constraints that have nothing to do with the story itself.