Ah, the pursuit of love!
If we all lived inside sparklingly quirky romantic comedies, and let’s face it the food, parking and occupational opportunities are unparalleled, then falling in love seems to be a simple matter of a whimsical meet-cute, a few further random but serendipitous meetings, a third act misunderstanding and the inevitable sharing of feelings, usually at an airport, from which point love feels freely and uninterrupted over the course of credits soundtracked by warm and fuzzy crooner track or two.
It’s all very simple and reassuringly lovely but life does not mirror romantic comedies generally because, hard as it is to hear, we are all lamentably fallible and while love can happen to people of less than perfect character, which, sorry Instagram influencers, is all of us, it not as easily scripted as rom-coms would have you believe.
But wouldn’t it be lovely if maybe we could meet halfway and mix together some flawed reality and a healthy dose of magical rom-com romantic wonder?
It would indeed be and this is why Loving Lizzie March by Susannah Hardy is such a brilliantly enjoyable delight; it serves us up some rom-com vibes but with a healthy and highly-entertaining side order of not-quite-together humanity and sense that love is in reach but not quite as easily as you’d like it to be.
Or rather, it should be said, as the titular protagonist, Lizzie March, would like it to be.
“He plants a quick kiss on my cheek and makes his way to the kitchen. I can hear him pottering around, clanking pots and chinking cups. I guess this is what our life will be like together. Me, lying in bed, while my handsome husband makes coffee. Then we’ll have incredibly morning sex and go out for brunch, look in a few bookshops, second-hand stores, buy some quirky retro lamp, maybe catch a movie. Later we’ll meet friends for a drink then head off for a bite to eat in a cool hole-in-the-wall restaurant no one’s ever heard of. Then we’ll get a taxi home but we won’t be able to wait. Consumed by desire, we’ll just rip each other’s clothes off right there in the back seat and …” (P. 48)
Lizzie is the heroine of Hardy’s beguilingly fun tale, one which centres on March’s initially obsessed mission to make the hunky supervisor at the outbound wine sales centre where she works, Jake Wheeler, with whom she may or may not have slept – okay she did and they’re in love and it’s gloriously romantically perfect, or it could just be in Lizzie’s highly-imaginative head – realise that she is his one and only.
Sure, she barely knows him, and yeah, he may have a bad boy reputation with the dependability of an easily-distracted moth, but it’s love, true love people and if Lizzie has to do some slightly unorthodox things like stalk him, then stalk him she will.
Especially when she finds out she is pregnant to him, upping the stakes all the more, transforming him from a drunken post-work function shag to someone who could very well be, and likely is, let’s be honest, The One.
While Lizzie’s best friend Clem does her best to steer her BFF back to something approaching a realistic outlook, much of the fun of Loving Lizzie March comes from the fact that our fashion designer-aspirant protagonist is fallibly and hilariously incapable of not being her own worst enemy.
All of which makes her wonderfully, relatably human, lending the novel a lovely sense of being rom-com made possible, the aspirational fizz and fun with some groundedness thrown in for good storytelling measure.
Set in Sydney, Loving Lizzie March sits joyously between the two extremes of life in all its gritty, lovelorn messiness and the vibrant confection of rom-coms and never really puts a foot wrong.
You can relate to the fact that Lizzie, stuck in a call centre with no prospects of career advancement and living alone in a small apartment, has failed at many of the things she set out to do with her life, principally launching her fashion career, an endeavour which came to a crashing halt just after college when her first collection did not exactly set the world on fire.
Weighed down by that sense of failure, Lizzie has turned in on herself, unable to see beyond the heady day that if she can just find The One, all the troubles will be solved.
True, life is rarely that accommodating, something Lizzie comes to realise rather belatedly over the course of the book, and Hardy, who writes with an easy wit and an insightful understanding of the quirks of flawed humanity, does an exemplary job of making Lizzie a source of comic inspiration with ever once devaluing her as a person.
Lizzie may not get a lot of things right, but she is a valued friend, a much-loved daughter, a vivaciously impulsive personality and the sort of person you really want to get to know.
So, flawed yes, but irredeemably, annoyingly so? Not so much and therein lies her appeal and charm.
“I open my eyes with a jolt and Dr Mitch is standing in front of me, dressed in his doctor outfit, hair back to a toothbrush. Now it’s my turn to blush. A ridiculous dream. yet strangely arousing. Which is odd in my current situation. I don’t even find Dr Mitch that sexy. Why wasn’t Jake driving the van, declaring his love for me?”
The sheer pleasure of Loving Lizzie March, which sums itself up perfectly and amusingly with the coverline “Folly, fashion and flailing in love”, is that you come to root for Lizzie through all the backward and forward steps, her misjudgments and self-harming delusions because she could well be one of us.
Sure, a heightened version of us but there’s enough of a real, grounded person there to feel like the trajectory of her love life, and her life as a whole, while augmented by rom-com whimsy and comedic hyperbole, is entirely possible and within our hands.
Much as we may not like to admit it, we have all been Lizzie March at some point or another and while many of us may have got our happy ending, it hasn’t come as easily as we’d like nor without some bruises and losses along the way.
That’s life and it’s on gregariously exuberant display in Loving Lizzie March, warts and all, albeit with a narratively hyped-up sheen to it, and you cannot help but fall in love with Lizzie, her groundedness and her growth from deluded romantic at heart to someone who might just get life working in her favour, after all, and get her happy-ever-after, just with a tad more realism that the average rom-com.
In the case of Loving Lizzie March, that’s a very good thing, offering a beguilingly fun to read mix of reality and rom-com escapism that comes together perfectly and reminds you that just because life throws curve balls aplenty, doesn’t mean it’s capable to a few rather sweet and wonderful surprises.