Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review - Melissa Nathan's The Learning Curve

The Learning Curve by Melissa Nathan
Published by: Arrow
Publication Date: September 4th, 2006
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Nicky Hobbs loves her job teaching school, even if she often dwells on the fact that her life at thirty is far different from the life she dreamed she'd have when she was twenty three. Well, only her ex Rob knows she wanted to be married by now with three kids... too bad she's working with him, and soon closer then ever. Rob and Nicky are appointed deputy heads of the school which it turns out is a way to test their suitability to see who would be the ideal headmaster or mistress when the current Head, Miss James, retires. Rob really wants the job and is willing to manipulate Nicky into rethinking her life and into feeling the tick of her biological clock. Nicky doesn't realize the extent to which Rob is willing to go to get this job and thinks that maybe he has turned over a new leaf, much like the new employee at the school, Mark Samuels. Mark Samuels is the father of Nicky's favorite student, Oscar. Mark Samuels is the absentee parent from hell who Nicky decides to throw the gauntlet at. Mark picks it up and by the time they are working together he is a new man... could he even be Nicky's new man? But Nicky is so confused that by the end of the school year she won't even know which end is up or what her future might hold.

Melissa Nathan ranks right up there in my mind as the pinnacle of Chick Lit. She was one of, if not the first Chick Lit author that I fell hard for. I remember being in Barnes and Noble and picking up Pride, Prejudice and Jamsin Field off one of their featured tables down the middle of the store. Besides the premise of a theatrical production of Pride and Prejudice, I had more then a little cover lust because it totally looked like Caroline Bingley (aka Anna Chancellor) with one of her hats from Four Weddings and a Funeral and yes, I really am that easily sold on a book. Because she was a British author with only one book released stateside (sometimes American publishers baffle me), Amazon UK became my drug dealer, getting me all her new releases as soon as they came out until her untimely death of Breast Cancer right around the publication of The Learning Curve.

It was a sad sad day for Chick Lit when Melissa passed. Based on the quality of her work what might she have gone on to do? And now I've turned my review into a total buzzkill. Hey, at least I didn't reprint her forward to the book which had me in floods of tears. With only five books to her name I was extra hesitant to read the final unread book I had on my shelf, The Learning Curve. Once I finished this book, well, there would be no more. I kind of wish that I hadn't read it. The happy anticipation that there would always be another Melissa Nathan book out there for me to read has been replaced with the sad reality of how awful this book was. Sometimes looking forward to something is so much more satisfying then the reality, and the reality of this book is painful.

Before ripping apart The Learning Curve for it's themes, I have to tackle something that just drove me round the bend. This book was riddled with inconsistencies, not to mention an unwieldy cast of characters you have to memorize in the first two pages. Now, I don't know if this was because Melissa was pushing through to get this book done that they didn't bother with any kind of continuity editing, but it is a disservice if this is the case. Seriously, edit this book and get it back to me without the days of the week being helter skelter, with Friday occasionally being followed by Monday, and there once in awhile being a few extra days between Monday and Thursday. Seeing as we all live by the calendar, the least this book could do is follow said calendar.

But the temporal issues are nothing compared to clothes magically changing from leaving for school till arriving at school. Shoes being high heels then flats. But worst of all, in the beginning of the book Oscar's camera phone is a big plot point and then when he's spying on teachers during the school trip he has to use a crappy disposable camera? Um, us the freakin' phone! OK, I've got to stop being nitpicky about this, and other little things like how plodding the pace is, how I dislike every character, how sometimes it all just goes a little creepy with blackmail and inappropriate student teacher relationships, how is Nicky at thirty even qualified to be a headmistress, and how crap Johnny English is so stop using it as the only movie mentioned, and move onto other things. Ok, I think I got the rant out. All these problems could have been fixable but the truth is it wouldn't have fixed the book.

Through the entire book there are strained relationships between the males and females. I wouldn't even say strained covers it, it has such an antagonistic dynamic that when it even turns a little violent in the last few chapters I can't say I was surprised. There was anger and tears and recrimination behind this battle of the sexes. It all boils down to the age old question of men being the ones with the jobs and women being the ones rearing the children. With Nicky we get almost 600 pages of her griping about children/career/children/career/children/career/children/career. There is no progress with this internal and external dialogue, there is just the dialogue. Nicky is baby crazy but can't justify giving up her career to have kids and therefore bemoans this for hundreds and hundreds of pages. I think she really needs some psychological help.

Of course it doesn't help that her supposed best friend who happens to be her ex is playing on these doubts. But seriously, there was never any furthering of the dialogue or a change to it, just a broken record going over and over and over the same bloody tune till I hated this book and the read rage fully embraced my soul. Just writing this review I want to take this book and hurl it out a window. You can usually tell how much I care for a book by the treatment I give it. Those I love and cherish don't have creased spines or loose pages... this one looks like it was run over by a truck, which then backed over it again and again... besides breaking the spine I think I loosened the pages enough that if I were ever to try to read it again in some masochistic torture, well, they'd all fall out. Right now I'm wondering if book burning is a good idea... I'm a little cold and this book is quite thick... stop it brain, just stop it. Constructive criticism. Legitimate reasons for the hate, don't rant, critique.

But the heart of this book I think is the sad truth that Melissa Nathan knew she was dying. Look at the story, not Nicky's, but Mark's. Mark is a single workaholic father who lost his wife when his son Oscar was four. Melissa's husband Andrew lost her when their son Sam was three. So there's a part of me that doesn't want to criticize this book. There's a part of me that thinks perhaps this book was cathartic, that Melissa needed to write it. She was writing a story to tell her husband that he could move on as long as what he did was doing what was best for their son Sam. That it's not about being trapped in the past but knowing that life goes on. This then becomes such a personal book it's almost too sad to bear. Maybe she should have just gifted it to her husband and not put it out there in the world. It's a jumbled mess of unlikable characters and mixed messages and in the end, a dying woman's message to her husband of hope and love. This sad yet kind of creepy revelation makes me feel like a peeping tom that has just written a scathing review of someones innermost thoughts. Perhaps it's for the best that she can never see this review.


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