Helen Fielding, with BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, might have created a
monster. That monster is called Chick Lit and, depending on how you
look at it, is either a fun and feminine new literary genre or
something shallow. Perhaps Chick Lit really needs to be judged on a
book-by-book basis. Fielding's novel was inventive, funny and
insightful. Not so, unfortunately, with Michelle Cunnah's debut
In 32AA Cunnah uses many of the devices Fielding employed: lists,
diary-like passages, and even an English heroine. Cunnah's work,
however, lacks the depth and originality that readers found in
Bridget Jones. Our protagonist here is Emma Taylor, almost thirty
and desperate to be married (or at least get an engagement ring).
She is stuck in a thankless job and secretly living with her boss,
an arrogant man she had only been dating a few months before moving
into his sterile New York apartment. As her birthday approaches she
is excited over the possibility of a diamond ring and instead gets
dumped and finds out that her boyfriend is marrying someone
Supported by her friends and family, Emma now has to reassess the
life she is living and the choices she has made. Although we are
constantly reminded of just how educated she is, Emma remains
one-dimensional and materialistic through this opportunity for
growth. Her concerns still rest with designer dresses and shoes.
She holds on to her dream of marriage, instead of replacing it with
a dream of happiness or independence.
After staying with a friend in a small apartment, Emma begins to
look for a place of her own. But with little money and specific
tastes she has trouble finding someplace suitable to live. After
being found by Jack, her stepmother's brother (a man she has a
history with, not to mention chemistry) sleeping in her car, she
begins staying at his place. Staying with Jack leads, predictably,
to all sorts of emotional confusion. Will they end up together?
Will her friends like him? Will he stop seeing other women? Does
she love him or not? Again, Emma is provided much opportunity for
growth and change.
32AA is not terrible. It is just derivative and a little less than
inspired. Cunnah seems overly influenced by the Chick Lit that has
come before her instead of finding her own voice. She does not lack
talent as a writer, but perhaps guidance. This novel reads like a
Sex and the City spin-off complete with Manolo shoes, casual
sex and fabulous outfits, corporate jobs and a set of "types" as
friends. Cunnah (and Emma) could do so much better.
Perhaps it is telling that the title refers to Emma's bra size and
throughout the story she is being pressured to have breast
enlargement surgery (not in the least by her plastic surgeon
father). It is sad that seemingly one of the biggest reasons she
falls for Jack is his contentment with her breast size.
32AA is not a challenging book. But it may be a good read for a
long trip by plane or train. It is the kind of book that could be a
guilty pleasure on a vacation or even curled up by the fire on a
cold and snowy night. Readers can only hope that Cunnah finds her
own style and voice the next time around and makes fans of Chick
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 20, 2011