Yet another male writer ventures intrepidly into the world of romance, in the form of Michael E Cole, who,
I understand from the book jacket, is a semi-retired metal detectorist with an interest in equestrianism. Judging by its title
and cover image, his novel would appear to be aimed at the teenage market. Nowhere is this stated in the blurb, so I approached
it with an open mind, but, even after finishing it, I couldn't be sure. Despite the presence of fairly explicit sex scenes,
there is a naiveté about Michael Cole's writing that makes it likely, and yet unlikely, to appeal to the twenty-first century
teenager. Indeed, it could almost have been written in the mid-twentieth, or even mid-nineteenth, century.
The heroine, Katrina, is a twenty-year-old girl, who, despite having very wealthy parents, does not receive
enough allowance to enable her to save up for a mobile phone. It doesn't seem to occur to her to get a job; although she complains
about being treated like a child, she makes no effort to leave the comfort of the family home, where she is being prepared
for a career in show-jumping and a suitable marriage. She has so few friends that she is forced to confide her first experience
of sex to her brother's fiancée, a woman she has only just met.
Katrina's secret lover, James, is hardly any better. At twenty-four, an age when most professional footballers
are at the summit of their careers, he is only just getting his first try-out. What he has done before now, in the way of
earning his living, is a bit of a mystery. Like Katrina, he lives with his parents, but has a rather more debauched lifestyle:
he goes to the pub regularly, and has friends who shout rude (but never obscene) remarks at him.
Mr Cole's style bears all the signs of having been drummed into him at grammar school. His characters use
the kind of dialogue that would have sounded old-fashioned in the 1950s. "You did not tell your mother that you were going
to a football match this afternoon," chides Katrina's father. "What have you to say for yourself?" James's dad is less refined.
"If you like, you can go up the pub, and when the young lady calls, your mother or me will take a message."
The great irony is this: I couldn't put it down. A silly story, written with all the subtlety of a
brick, with unconvincing characters, and yet I was completely swept away by it. I simply couldn't wait to discover whether
Katrina's romance would survive the hostility of her parents and the vicissitudes of fortune.
It was only in the latter chapters that the pace began to falter and the frequent errors became noticeable
enough to annoy. It was as though Mr Cole had run out of steam, or perhaps his pen couldn't keep up with his thoughts. The
Badminton event, which should logically have been the climax of the book, was used as a mute and colourless backdrop to more
prosaic incidents. At times it was difficult to know what was going on. James went for a six-mile walk and managed to return
home in fifteen minutes, without mechanical assistance. If he didn't want Katrina to see him, why did he go to Badminton dressed
in his football strip? Why didn't she spot him? And if Mary Joe [sic] could see what was going on half a mile away,
why didn't she do something to help instead of running off in the other direction? Katrina's brother, and in fact all the
other characters, behaved absurdly, their actions being geared to moving the plot along regardless of what their personalities
should have dictated.
There's no doubt in my mind. Jeffrey Archer is alive and well and living in Bristol.