Sheer Abandon, by Penny Vincenzi

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on July 15, 2008

Hunting for the perfect beach read in which to “sheerly abandon” myself on a summer vacation, I settled on this classic, Sheer Abandon, by Penny Vincenzi. As her godmother-type moniker insinuates, Vincenzi is Britian’s answer to Jennifer Weiner when it comes to chick lit sovereignty. Although I acknowledge the book did have a certain mesmerizing quality that got me through the airport layovers and hotel hangovers quite neatly, I don’t feel entirely satisfied upon finishing it.

Abandon is an ambitious book in terms of the typical chick lit landscape. It goes far beyond female friendship and romantic love and branches into an epic saga about politics, healthcare and agriculture. At first blush, I found the formation of the new political party in this novel incredibly exciting, and a welcome variation on the usual chick lit formula. But I think ultimately bringing in all these other themes caused the central storyline to suffer, particularly because Vincenzi seems to well, abandon them, as she moves towards the plot’s central conclusion.

As a result, the female heroines which really drive the success of this genre (the endearingly downtrodden Bridget Jones, the plucky Becky Bloomwood) feel hollow, contrived and-most damningly-utterly interchangeable. You don’t really find yourself giggling along with them or thinking “gawd, I’d do that exact same silly thing.” Some may draw the distinction that Vincenzi is women’s fiction, rather than chick lit, but even so, finely drawn characters are a key that cannot be ignored. (The brilliant evocative characters in women’s fiction writer Maria De Los Santos recent “Belong to Me” spring to mind.)

Without driving central characters and relationships to care about, the experience of reading this book was somewhat abstract. Coupled with a disappointing ending that left so many loose ends, I would say this book is perfectly satisfying but not transcendent. A simple epilogue sweeping up all the various fates would have gone a long way to making it feel complete. Overall, this book would be a perfectly competent beach read in a pinch, but you could grab the one next to it just as easily.

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