Not even good enough for a beach read

Notting Hell by Rachel Johnson 2006. French title : Le diable vit à Notting Hill.

I don’t know what woke me up – I drank no alcohol last night, I observed the carb curfew, I had only one espresso during the day, plus I did a Pilates class and hours of gardening in the fresh air – but I’m definitely awake now. Wide awake.

Johnson_Notting_HellThis is the first paragraph of Notting Hell by Rachel Johnson. I know what you’re thinking: Why on earth did she pick this book? Well, I didn’t, I got it for my birthday. It’s not a book I would have chosen for myself but I decided to give it a go. We’re now in the South of France, for a couple of weeks of R&R by the sea. I’m exhausted by the last weeks at the office and I thought this would be the perfect time to read Notting Hell. My brain cells are frozen by fatigue and it sounded smart to not to waste good books on the first couple of days of reading at the beach. That’s why I went for this book that didn’t require many brain cells. Actually, it didn’t require brain cells at all and the few I had left threw a tantrum in my skull, urging me to abandon the book. I followed their lead after 80 pages of silliness, not with a capital S, that wouldn’t be big enough, but with a huge initial letter S like in the book of Kells.

The story is about rich families living around a private square in Notting Hill. They’re rich and they have problems. Every sentence mentions a brand of some sort, there are so many of them that I wondered if their marketing VPs paid the “writer” on their advertising budget. I have little patience with that kind of setting. The characters are thin, they have obvious professions; the husbands are bankers, the wives are a free-lance journalist specialised in deep articles such as the pros and cons of being flat-chested or, of course, stay-at-home mothers. Heaven forbid that the women have a job in a scientific field. Their main concern is who sleeps with whom around the square. They observe each other and gossip. Zzzzzzzzz.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some snobbish intellectual who only raves about Proust. I enjoy light reads too. But light doesn’t mean stupid. Now, my beach read is You Never Know With Women by James Hadley Chase (THANKS GUY) and I’m having a great time.

I’ll be back soon with a billet about the excellent Brick Lane by Monica Ali.

  1. August 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    I have to write this. After I hit the publish button for this post, I had the usual WP quote about writing and I got this one:

    Easy reading is damn hard writing. Nathaniel Hawthorne

    This is so endearing considering the hard time I had with The Scarlet Letter.


    • August 5, 2013 at 9:59 am

      This really sounds like a book which can make you give up reading for good… I hope that nobody will ever have the idea to give me a book of the kind for birthday, Christmas or whatever.

      However, I like the quote of Nathaniel Hawthorne.


      • August 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm

        “This really sounds like a book which can make you give up reading for good” I’m not sure about that statement. Nothing can drive heavy readers away from literature. And other readers might enjoy this chick lit crap.
        The quote is great, it just popped up after I struggled so much with his prose. I found it endearing.


        • August 7, 2013 at 10:01 am

          Well Emma, you’re certainly right that anyone addicted to reading like we are won’t ban books from their lives because of having had the bad luck to get a piece of crap before their eyes. But people who just wish to give a book a chance for a change and who aren’t of the kind to enjoy chick lit, will never touch a book again, I fear. For a ‘beginner’ the wrong book can be quite detrimental (which are the wrong books depends of the person, of course!).


          • August 8, 2013 at 11:48 am

            Theoretically, I agree with you.
            But my sarcastic mind shouts that beginners who haven’t been discouraged by school programs force feeding them with books that they weren’t ready to read, won’t give up on reading because of Ms Johnson’s poor excuse of a style. 🙂


  2. August 4, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Yikes, this book sounds awful! I particularly liked: “That’s why I went for this book that didn’t require many brain cells. Actually, it didn’t require brain cells at all and the few I had left threw a tantrum in my skull, urging me to abandon the book.” Thanks for the warning!


    • August 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm

      Not a book you want to spend money on. Glad I entertained you!


  3. August 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    This if funny: when I read the post in my e-mail box this morning, I read the opening quote thinking that this was the beginning of the post–your words and not a quote from the book, and I thought it didn’t sound like you at all.

    Have fun and plenty of R&R on the beach. The James Hadley Chase should turn out to fit the bill.


    • August 4, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      That’s why I put the quote at the beginning of the post. This book isn’t me at all.
      I don’t care about brands, celebrities (God, all that talking about this royal baby) and I don’t believe in fen shui.
      The only thing Johnson did right is picking the names of the French characters. They suit their age. Not like the Jean-Paul in Jennifer Government.


  4. August 4, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    Ugh. I’m glad you have the south of France as compensation.


    • August 4, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      I love the Mediterranean coast not matter how crowded it can be. I only have to smell the scent of pine trees mixed with the scent of the sea to feel on holiday.


  5. August 4, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    I had this in my hand today as I got in as a free book when i bought two others (no I couldn’t choose, it was in the package). Not ging to rad that any day soon.
    I started Brick Lane when it came out. It’s one of the very rare books I didn’t finish.


    • August 5, 2013 at 7:33 am

      You now have a book to give to someone you dislike.
      How far were you when you abandoned Brick Lane? I almost abandoned it at some point but for once, I persisted and it was worth it.


      • August 5, 2013 at 8:15 am

        I didn’t think it was bad just a bit bland. I gave up after 100 pages. It was OK but it never really grabbed me and I had to put it aside sveral times which didn’t help. Under “normal” circumstances I would have finished as I always finish unless I find something is badly written or offensive in some way (sexist etc.). Some books need to be finished and if you say this is one of them, then I believe you.


        • August 5, 2013 at 8:21 am

          That’s about where I was ready to give it up too. I’m going to write about it, you had the same problem, it might be a weakness of the book.


  6. August 5, 2013 at 8:19 am

    This looks like the novel version of ‘Desperate Housewives’, Emma. Only, probably, it is more poorly done. It is sad that the author sprinkles her novel with brand names. I don’t know how it is going to be more entertaining for the reader or help the reader. I liked what you said about raving about Proust (I remember reading in a Somerset Maugham book that he would be happy to be bored by Proust rather than be entertained by another author :)) That Nathaniel Hawthorne quote is beautiful. Thanks for sharing. With your permission, I hope I can share it with friends. I liked what you said to Caroline, about gifting this book to someone you dislike 🙂 It was that bad, was it? Hope you enjoy the James Hadley Chase book. He is one of my favourite noir thriller writers. Happy reading and happy holidays!


    • August 5, 2013 at 8:34 am

      I find it sad that she found a publisher when the idea isn’t original and the style so poor. (not as bad as EL James, though)
      I hate the brand name dropping. It’s fleeting, useless and enforces the stupidity of the book. I’m not interested in brands and I’m not one to pay too much for a TShirt to have a special sign on it.
      Please feel free to use that quote, it doesn’t belong to me.


  7. leroyhunter
    August 6, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Sounds about as terrible as I’d expect.

    The thing I didn’t mention on twitter is that Johnson’s odious brother is reckoned by some to be a good bet for future Prime Minister of Britain. SO yet again the truth is stranger….


    • August 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      It is terrible. I had a great time reading Bridget Jones’s Diary but this wins the competition for silliness.

      As I don’t think we have lessons to give about the quality of politicians, I won’t comment on your last paragraph.
      One of our former presidents wrote a romance novel…
      It would be fun to imagine what kind of novel politicians would write if they were writers. I imagine our former president writing a kick-ass testosterone-loaded action novel set in America. The current one would be more into children literature.
      What about Irish politicians?


      • leroyhunter
        August 7, 2013 at 3:07 pm

        Fair enough! I don’t pretend that “my” politicians are any better – but the Boris phenomenon is mind-boggling.

        Our current leader portrays himself as a capable, no-nonsense type of guy. So maybe an old-style Western complete with “message” and a homily from the sheriff at the end.


        • August 8, 2013 at 11:50 am

          Maybe yours and ours could join efforts and write a new episode of Lucky Luke. After all, they could meet in Brussels for this work on a Belgian comics…


          • leroyhunter
            August 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm

            When I was a kid, I was in hospital to have my tonsils taken out. I HAD to have my Lucky Luke. I was sharing a room with a younger kid (I was seven, I think) who was upset and homesick. The nurses asked me to lend him an LL book, which I did. But he went home the next day and took it with him! I’ve never forgiven that.


            • August 8, 2013 at 1:58 pm

              Sorry to have brought back such painful childhood memories. Maybe thanks to you this kid starting reading comics and is now a comics author. 🙂


  8. August 6, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    When I read the first paragraph that you posted I thought that it might be ironic. A parody of the lifestyle described. I guess that it was not.


    • August 6, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Alas, it’s not a parody. Your superior mind sees too much in this book…


  9. August 16, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    She’s from a very well connected family, as Leroy mentions her brother is tipped as a possible future prime minister and is currently mayor of London.

    The book is famously bad. Her writing is famously bad. I wish I’d known, I’d have warned you. My understanding is she’s the choice of author for people who find Dan Brown a bit intellectual.

    I’ve nothing against chicklit, though it’s not a genre that remotely interests me, but like summer blockbuster movies chicklit novels can be done well or done badly. Rachel Johnson is the Transformers-era Michael Mann of chicklit. She’s chicklit for people who’ve run out of books by their favourite authors and want something to fill the gap, or for the utterly undiscriminating.

    Famously, famously bad. You have my sympathies.


    • August 17, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      I hope her brother is better at politics than she is at literature.

      You couldn’t have done anything, it was a gift, I would have read it (or tried it) anyway. I don’t have anything against chicklit either. I have received another one (French this time) which seems to match Johnson’s book. *sigh*

      “My understanding is she’s the choice of author for people who find Dan Brown a bit intellectual.” Do these people even exist? Speaking about Dan Brown, we’re cursed in the family, my husband got the last one for his birthday. Someone from work, he had to swallow it. (extremely badly written) Btw, I’ve heard about the conditions the publishers imposed on translators who worked on this book. They were in Italy, in a “bunker”. All the translators of the different languages were at the same time, in the same place, working on their local version of the book. The publishers were so afraid of leaks that cell phones, laptops were confiscated. They couldn’t communicate with the outside wordl. They weren’t allowed to bring the manuscript home and they had to work like prisoners on a precise schedule. They had 3 weeks to translate the book. Disgusting.


  1. January 14, 2017 at 9:47 pm

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