Writing a book that’s based, in plot and/or structure, on another work, is very difficult. There’s a fine line between an homage/inspiration and blatant stealing. Personally, I like the similarities to be there, but relatively subtle – although as I say that, I think of The Edge of Reason which lifts scenes almost word-for-word from Persuasion, and yet somehow I loved that and thought it worked pretty well, while I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty because I kept hearing Howards End in my head and yes, I know that’s deliberate, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe I just know Forster too well – although you could say the same thing about Persuasion since the scene that tipped me off in Edge of Reason, while a major scene, isn’t one of the more obvious ones.
Anyway. For the most part, let’s say, I prefer things to be a bit more subtle. Or creative if they’re not subtle. The other Alexandra Potter book that I’ve read – Me and Mr. Darcy – is creative, but not really subtle. But then, it’s not meant to be. The title is “Me and Mr. Darcy”. The main point of the main character’s trip in the book is so that she can live out Pride and Prejudice. And she does. But it manages to be creative and interesting, which is why I kept it in my last book cull (even though there are a few British/American speech pattern things that don’t quite work, and I can’t believe that someone who’s so interested in Jane Austen really knows that little about England in general. Or packing for an air journey) and why, when I saw “new” Alexandra Potter books at the library and at the bookstores, I wanted to read them.
I put new in quotation marks because Do You Come Here Often? is a 2009 reissue of a 2004 book that was written probably in 2000/2001. There are a few year markers in the first part of the book, which is actually kind of annoying – if you’re going to specify the year, then the year should have some significance, should be meaningful somewhere else in the book. The type of references that these were, though, would have been just as effective if they’d been general and non-specific, instead of “look how I’m setting my book in a specific place and time!” I forgot about it by the end, though.
Anyway, it’s a retelling of When Harry Met Sally, and it’s a lot more subtle about it than Me and Mr. Darcy was with Pride and Prejudice. There are also enough differences in the story to make it more of a homage than a retelling, including an extra subplot. But the basics are there: Hate at first sight between the main characters; lengthy gap before they see each other again, in a fairly random circumstance; they become platonic best friends; their best friends end up meeting and falling instantly in love; they sleep together when the heroine is in emotional turmoil over her ex, and then don’t speak again for weeks; the hero makes a big romantic gesture at the last minute. They even watch When Harry Met Sally together, and the hero quotes it near the end.
It’s not a perfect book, by any means. It starts very slowly, Jimi isn’t really a likable character at the beginning (at least, his self-description made me shudder and go “Oh, one of Those Guys.”), the prologue was oddly coy/vague (until it was explained about three-quarters of the way through the book, at which point I had to go back to the prologue and go “….ohhhhhh.”). There were any number of things that, looking back on it from the distance of six hours, I wouldn’t have done if I’d written it, or would have done differently. But, by the end, it works. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did (around the point where Grace leaves Spencer) I raced through to the end. (Plus, I felt smart when I figured out the When Harry Met Sally thing.)
I’ll keep it around, at least for now. I will also probably try to find Who’s That Girl at the library, and read it next time I’m there. I’ll probably also watch When Harry Met Sally in the next day or so…..