Author: Connie Willis (website)
UK Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Sci-fi, romance
When I say I enjoy romance, this is almost exactly the sort of thing I mean. The relationships and tropes being set up for the romance are obvious, but the characters are fun and spark off each other, and the main plot being focused on something else allows the romance to develop at a nice pace, with comparatively little fretting over who is going to call who and when.
Set in a vague and undefined near future, the latest craze in society is the EED – a simple neurological procedure which enhances communication between couples by allowing them to feel each other’s emotions. There is definitely no way this could backfire, and certainly not for Briddey, who is due to get one with her boyfriend of six weeks, Trent. Her family think it’s a terrible idea, whilst almost everyone she works with thinks it’s going to be great. The only exception is C.B. Schwartz, the loner phone designer who works by himself in the freezing basement and creeps people out.
And there you have the set up – the girl, the guy who’s perfect on paper, and the guy who is everything she actually wants but doesn’t realise, because he drives her crazy.
Unfortunately, for the plot to work Briddey has to be… perhaps naïve is a nicer word, but she comes across as quite dim, and refuses to listen to sense on a number of occasions. For some reason there is nothing alarming or suspect about her brand new boyfriend wanting to be emotionally connected to her, and she continually misreads his frustration at it not working as a sign that he wants to be connected to her, rather than something more sinister – which, let’s be real, it definitely is. The trouble begins when Briddey wakes up after her procedure and instead of being emotionally connected to Trent, she finds herself telepathically connected to C.B., and once she gets over the idea of it being a trick, she has to work to keep it quiet so Trent doesn’t think she has bonded emotionally with C.B. rather than her actual boyfriend.
Spoiler alert: if she didn’t start off emotionally bonded to him, she definitely ends up that way. It is a romance novel.
The rest of the book follows her learning to control her powers, with the careful coaching of C.B., whilst handling Trent’s increasingly impatient demands to connect emotionally, as well as juggling her ridiculously overbearing and invasive family, and trying to stop gossip getting out at work. As a sci-fi book, it’s very much diet sci-fi – the sole concept is the telepathy, and that is kept to the briefest of explanations so as not to interfere with the growing sexual tension; but it does provide an excellent vehicle for the romance that gives it time to develop slowly as the characters are trying to focus on something else. It was also a great example of showing characters winding each other up rather than just saying that they do – at the start of the book Briddey and C.B. are hugely different in their views and drive each other loopy, but they come together gradually during the narrative.
This isn’t a perfect book by any means. There are a lot of thinly-veiled criticisms levelled against our social-media world which have all been heard before, and Briddey’s family come across more “Oirish” than legitimately Irish, something which feels very tired, very quickly, particularly to anyone who has ever actually met anyone from Ireland. Even aside from that, they are as a whole quite maddening, and frankly if I were her I would have moved away a long time ago, because they don’t know the meaning of ‘personal space’. Her sister Mary Clare in particular is frankly horrifying as she tries to monitor her young daughter’s every breath, she is well overdue some kind of serious intervention on her parenting style.
Despite its flaws, it is a fun book, with a fluffy romance and enough a plot to trot along nicely and keep you engaged without taxing you. Perhaps it didn’t need to be 500 pages long, and if it had been a bit shorter then some of the repetitious arguments or thought processes that Briddey has could have been cut to one appearance each without jeopardising the narrative, but it was just the thing to read across a sunny Bank Holiday weekend.
- Light, fluffy romance with a slight sci-fi bent, it’s perfect holiday reading.
- The Irish aspect of things definitely felt overegged very early on, and it was a relief when that let up slightly towards the latter stages of the book.
- Don’t go into this expecting involved science fiction or a deep plot – the sci-fi is very much a plot device rather than a fully immersive world. Telepathy aside, it is basically the present day on Earth.
- I am not sure this book will date very well, because it is front-loaded with a lot of current pop culture references which felt obvious and out of place.
Rating: 4/5 – it’s not a great work of sci-fi literature, but it was good fun and I enjoyed reading it. It felt like I was on holiday.