From Notting Hill with Love...Actually

Ali McNamara
October 2012, Contemporary Romance
Sourcebooks, $14.99, 448 pages, Amazon ASIN 140226948X
Part of a series

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Subtle

Count me surprised that this book is over 400 pages long, because it's a light and breezy read, which is a definite testament to the author’s writing skills. But while I did enjoy the book, there were a few plot devices that started to bother me toward the end.

Scarlett O'Brien is a complete cinephile, almost living and breathing for movies. In fact one of her favorite pastimes when her life gets boring – like attending the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to watch King Lear with her fiancé David and his Japanese business visitors - is to imagine herself living out her favorite movie scenes, or even accepting an Oscar from Johnny Depp.

David is on to her though and confronts her about her daydreaming. He is even astute enough to know that she compares him to movie star idols. Of course most women do that while watching the movies, but he knows that she does it at odd times during the day.

The next day she meets up with one of her best friends, and to Scarlett’s dismay her friend concurs with David’s assessment. She even goes so far as to state that Scarlett is obsessed with films. She suggests that maybe she just needs a break, and she happens to know someone who needs a house sitter in London. Batting three for three, her father joins in lecturing about her daydreaming too. Surprisingly he opens up about her mother Rosemary, someone he rarely talks about since Rosemary abandoned them both over twenty-three years ago. Her father thinks she needs some time away too, so with her fiancé and father’s blessing she takes off for London. It is their hope that this time away will help her realize that life is not like a scene out of a movie.

While everyone is under the impression that she going to do some introspective thinking, Scarlett’s plans are just the opposite. She is going to prove that life is not far removed from the movies. Taking it a step further, she hopes to create some of her favorite scenes. Arriving in London she immediately meets pivotal individuals in her quest. One happens to be a very handsome next door neighbor named Sean. Unfortunately, Sean doesn’t share her love for cinema, but instead has an abiding love for good books. It is with Sean that she sets out on her first experience - attending a wedding, with the hopes of re-creating scenes from Four Weddings and a Funeral. Once there by happenstance Sean’s parents tell her that she reminds them of another woman, both in appearance and love of movies. Of course this couldn’t be her mother - or could it?

Scarlett and Sean’s initial interaction on the way to the wedding is super amusing. He would mention something and she would say, “Oh, you saw the film” and he would reply “No, it is based on this book”. I am sure as booklovers you are familiar with the scenario.

Scarlett is an interesting character, albeit a silly one. I am not a "life is real, life is earnest" type of person - people definitely need dreams - but I had a difficult time identifying with her notion of proving to her skeptics that life can be like a movie. One reason is that she seems so young, and to be honest over time her quest just started to feel frivolous. I found Scarlett’s quest for her mother more interesting than her role-playing different scenes from movies, even though numerous mentioned films are favorites of mine too. And while she is not intentionally self-centered, toward the end she appears that way. Everything is about her and her wishes. A wonderful guy does everything to make all her dreams come true, and I thought, “What have you done for him?”

On the positive side, if you have a love for romantic scenes from films then this is a book you won’t want to miss. Great scenes from 1940s films to the present are incorporated into the story with adeptness and creativity.

This is the first book in a series. While I did like many parts of it, the story isn’t enough to convince me to read the next book. If you are a cinephile, then I think you probably will enjoy it more than I did.

-- Leigh Davis

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