Penguin, £6.99, ISBN 0-140-27181-3
Contemporary Fiction, 2001
I enjoyed Marian Keyes’s debut effort Watermelon. I liked the way the author took an overdone premise in Brit pop-lit and infuses her writing with wit and yes, local humor. Then the author discovers that there is an international audience out there. Out the window goes the British humor.
In her latest, Sushi for Beginners, there’s nothing much to savor. It’s set in Dublin, Ireland, but frankly, it could be set in New York or Paris or even Tokyo for all the local flavor it had. And even the title – taken from a superficial scene in the story, what’s up with that? Granted, Ginger Marmalade for Beginners may be pushing it, but I can’t help wondering if even the title is another attempt by the author and her publishers to market her to the world.
So take away the British dialects, the oh-so-typical British humor, and in fact, take away everything quirky and charming and eccentric, and I get Sushi for Beginners, an excruciatingly dull and predictable by-the-book “I Want Bridget Jones’s PMS” clone.
It’s about three women. Lisa Edwards is the bitchy one, a ruthless editor, who, like all formulaic pop-lit heroine, loses her job in the first chapter. Okay, not exactly losing her job, but she gets transferred to Dublin, Ireland, to launch a women’s magazine there. Okay, since she’s the bitch here, who wants to bet that she will fall in love and be humiliated so thoroughly by the end that she loses not only her friends but also her job and her old life?
Then there’s her assistant, Ashling. She’s the good one. Read that as a no-self esteem whiner who keeps going on and on about her lack of waist, looks, and men in her life. She and Lisa start a catfight for a man who has a chronic attention-deficient disorder. Well, the world is populated by too many women, too few men, and I guess we all have to stab and backstab our sisters for a man, any man. And of course, Ashling, the “good one” (read: no ambition apart from wanting a man in her life to prop her self-esteem) wins.
Then there’s Clodagh, Ashling’s friend, a wife who decides to dump her attention-deficient hubby and kids for a midlife crisis swing with some jerk guy. And since we all know such adventurous women deserve nothing but our contempt, we have her suffer thoroughly in the end. We cheer for her husband who turns the tables on her by doing the same thing and yes, he gets rewarded for it! (Well, he’s a man, and he has needs… and besides, Clodagh’s out of the way – there’s a free available man in the market now, LET’S GET HIM, GIRLS! DAMN YOU! I SAW HIM FIRST! HISS! MEEEOOOWWW! SCRATCH!).
Dull, predictable, utterly formulaic, and completely devoid of any personality whatsoever, Sushi for Beginners is like a glossy advertisement in a beauty magazine. Product placements of magazines like Elle, handbags and clothes by Prada, all sorts of designer coffee, and even more fattening chocolate brands (eat some more, readers, then worry some more about your weight, and yes, go on a shopping spree and buy more Prada to boost your self-esteem!) make me wonder just how much these product manufacturers are paying the author for the privilege.