Sunday, 16 June 2013

Etiquette for the End of the World by Jeanne Martinet

Etiquette for the End of the World (2012)
Jeanne Martinet
Grade: A
Genre: funny / contemporary / chick lit
Sex scenes: mild
Source: NetGalley

Tess Eliot is 39-years old and has just lost her column in a respected newspaper. Apparently, her recent Tess Knows Best article, with the line “The best way to a man’s heart is through his rib cage, preferably with a hack saw” went too far. Unemployed, with her agent no longer sending out her book proposal for Tess Eliot’s Quick Fixes for Life, Love, and Your Mother-in-Law, Tess is desperate for work.

She stumbles across the World Organisation for Omniscient Solstice Harbingers who are offering an inordinate sum for someone to write an etiquette guide in preparation for the end of the world. A visit to the offices of WOOSH reveals that they really do believe that the world will end on December 21 2012, as the Ancient Mayans had predicted, and they really are serious about paying Tess that much money for effectively a how-to guide. She may think they all need their heads checked out, but these are dire circumstances.

As if she needed further incentive, Peter Barrett, head of Donor Relations at WOOSH has been assigned as her contact. He’s handsome, funny, an older guy, but best of all, he confides in her that he too thinks that what WOOSH believes in is a load of crap. Somehow, she has to fake her way through the entire book and she does this the only way she knows how: heavy on the sarcasm. With chapters titled ‘Boundaries in the Bunker’ and ‘Cannibalism: Yes or No?’, how could the book not be a hit?

Tess takes her work seriously, and any proper book requires research. As her eschatological studies take her to Mexico and into Ancient Mayan history, she accidentally stumbles upon an invention that has the potential for world destruction in a manner that is all the more frightening for the dependence we have on technology ...

This was unexpectedly funny. I mean, with a title like Etiquette for the End of the World and a synopsis like it has, funny was to be expected, but it was better than I thought it would be. It was compared to Bridget Jones’ Diary and while I haven’t read the latter, I can imagine that the comparison in terms of protagonists and the tone of the novel, is pretty accurate.

For such an out-of-this-world plot (it gets even more bizarre, believe me) I was drawn in like a moth to the flame. At times, I felt like I was reading a steampunk mystery novel. The tech being described would be commonplace in a Parasol Protectorate novel (review coming soon; the only steampunk I have to use as a yardstick) and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was. It really was thrilling to read what had been marketed as a chick-lit Bridget-Jones-esque novel, only for it to take the turn that it did. While I understand the marketing ploy behind that, EftEofW deserves to stand on its own.

I’m more likely to read about etiquette rules in a historical romance, and so finding them in a contemporary was a great change of scenery. Such a book of rules might seem outdated in our modern society, but it’s hilarious to read when put in this apocalyptic context and just really good fun.

I like that Tess is older than your average romance/chick lit heroine. Not that I can relate to her any better, but it’s nice to see some breadth in the genre. She’s witty, sharp, knows her own mind and doesn’t care much for what other people think; my kind of heroine. Regardless, she’s still prone to make mistakes and one of the things that I love about Tess is that even though she’s pretty old for this career shake-up she takes what life throws at her into her stride and isn’t afraid to embrace the new and unknown.

I’m really loving the book-within-a-book thing. The Siren was hauntingly beautiful because you always knew that there was a grain of truth in those excerpts, but could never be certain. This was completely different and I loved it for different reasons. I love to write, but I don’t think I could do it for something that I didn’t love, believe in, or had to fake completely, much like Tess is having to do. The humour infused in those excerpts borders on outright mockery of the very things that WOOSH believe in, yet they lap it right up, making it all the funnier.

This was Jeanne Martinet’s first novel and I’d definitely like to see more from her. I don’t read chick lit normally, but from what I’ve read and of what I know, it seems to me that Etiquette would be a breath of fresh air. Tess was definitely very different from the heroines that I usually come across, but it’s still amusing to identify those characteristics that I am used to. This may not be for everyone, and if I were describing it, it would be as a chick lit in disguise, with steampunk, mystery and romance costumes among its costumes. A surprise book, if you will, and who doesn’t love a surprise?

Image courtesy of Jeanne Martinet's website

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