Who do you think of when you hear the phrase “manic pixie dream girl?” If you’re my age, it’s probably Natalie Portman. If you’re a little younger, maybe it’s Zooey Deschanel. I don’t have any women’s or film studies cred to back me up, but to me the MPDG is a non-conventional and non-threatening woman-child who exists to teach a hero an Important Lesson. This device is pretty unappealing for obvious reasons.
I’ve thought about the MPDG phenomenon a couple times lately, while reading the American novella Another Name for Autumn and again while reading British blockbuster Me Before You. Both feature quirky, twee heroines, but neither are running around dancing in the rain; they’re both dealing with some fairly heavy stuff. All the quirkiness with none of the shenanigans! Sounds fun, eh? I don’t hate these books, but I have Issues with the heroines that coloured my reactions.
(Note: for thoughts from someone who DOES know what they’re talking about when it comes to MPDGs, see this article by author Jennifer Quist.)
Another Name for Autumn by Corrie Greathouse
My rating: 2/5 stars
I won’t paste the Goodreads synopsis here because it wasn’t reflective of the reading experience for me. I see this as a stream-of-consciousness account of a woman dealing with isolation and loss. So far, so good. But the unnamed narrator is a weird combination of Ally McBeal and uber-MPDG Natalie Portman in Garden State and not in a good way (could that possibly ever be in a good way?) She’s forever thinking her quirky, romantic thoughts, and that’s all we get, is her thoughts, relentlessly. Like this:
I wasn’t in love with anyone then but I had this love that was light and spirited and heavy and true and it belonged to someone.
What? And what is it with MPDGs and the rain?
I stopped going outside unless it was raining. When it rains, no one can see that your eyes are filled with years and your heart is full with holes. When it rained, I would sometimes sit outside, hoping my heart would fall silently from the sky again and come back to me.
The writing is all… very much liked the examples above. Oddly childlike and repetitive. It’s all love and hearts and music and fate.
Despite my issues with the character and the writing style, I finished the book in one sitting. It’s not that impressive a feat at 100 pages, but I did stay up past my bedtime. There is something strangely compelling about the writing and it’s rhythm. I was pretty confused at the end. I can barely decide if I liked it or not. If I liked it, it’s because all the stuff I didn’t like was done so well and so consistently, that I couldn’t help myself.
This book being published by a new, small press, there aren’t many other reviews out there, but I would love to see what some of my fellow bloggers think of it. Hit me up if you want my copy, it’s tiny, so I can probably mail it pretty cheap!
Thank you to Black Hill Press for the review copy!
Me Before You by Jojo Moyse
My rating: 2/5 stars
Synopsis: I’m assuming you know what it’s about, since everyone and their mother is reading it right now.
If any book is screaming for a gif-laden review, it’s this one. I’m at a disadvantage, because a) I’m too lazy to find a bunch of gifs and b) my Kobo died, taking all my annotations with it. It’s telling that almost all my annotations were “Run girl run” or “red flag!” or some variation. This is yet another story of a rich, devastatingly handsome, overbearing/possessive/jealous asshole and a young, poor, aimless woman who is just begging to be told what to do. Fifty shades of are you fucking kidding me with this shit.
Before I rant on, I will say that Moyse is a good writer. No inner goddesses here. The writing flows nicely and the dialogue is really well done. There’s not much to challenge the reader, though. The symbolism is beyond obvious (Lou is literally lost in a maze at one point, like, yes, we get it, she needs to find herself and stuff.) And I do appreciate the subversion of some of the tired romance tropes – Lou’s not a virgin, and Will’s disability means he’s not the typical virile hero.
But Lou. Oh Lou. She’s the one who inspired the title for this post. She’s got MPDG vibes with her cutesy outfits and child-like naivety, but she’s so stuck in a rut that I don’t really understand why either of her romantic interests are into her. It’s also hard to root for her when she ends up in the thrall of Will. I just wanted her to get away from him and into a healthy relationship, like, maybe with a therapist. Don’t even get me started on how all the trauma of being gang raped as a teen is magically gone once she talks to Will about it once for like five minutes. Don’t even.
And Will. So many of my contemporaries are singing his praises on blogs across the land and I was ready to like him. I didn’t mind that he was an asshole to Lou at first – I kind of didn’t blame him – but did none of the swooning readers notice how he slowly and creepily insinuates himself into Lou’s life and makes her more or less dependent on him? When Will conveniently gives a job to her desperate, unemployed dad, I forget my exact annotation was but it was for sure in all caps. It’s not romantic for a guy to make your entire family financially dependent on him, it’s pathological!
So I found the two characters and their “romance” abhorrent. But the real deal breaker for me came early on, when the premise of the book was revealed, because it’s 100% ridiculous. I guess I won’t go into it just in case, but a lot of the plot is pretty “convenient” (Lou doesn’t own a computer, Will’s parents can outfit an entire annex for a quadriplegic but can’t Google voice recognition software, Will happens to be fabulously rich, etc.)
I know a lot of you loved this book and part of my reaction is due to my heightened expectations. I didn’t hate it quite as much as this review may make you believe, but despite decent writing and an imaginative premise, I didn’t find it much better than any other romance novel I’ve read.
What do you think of Manic Pixie Dream Girl characters? Do they annoy you as much as they annoy me?