Footnotes to Sex by Mia Farlane

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Footnotes to Sex by Mia Farlane

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Price
Reviewed by Ruth Price
Summary: Serial procrastinator May's relationship with Jansen is threatened by her crush on intellectual French writer Francine. Footnotes To Sex is an enjoyable lesbian chick-lit romp, notable for its intelligent and amusing observations on the emotional baggage acquired in long-term relationships.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670917938

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Being a serial procrastinator myself, I found May Woodlea, the central character of Footnotes To Sex instantly recognisable. May writes and rewrites letters without sending them, avoids confrontation, blames everyone else for the problems in her world and does all she can to shirk responsibility. Will she ever decide what she wants from life?

May is a frustrated academic, working as a primary school teacher but yearning to achieve a doctorate, an ambition put aside around the time she met Jansen, her long-term partner. In Footnotes To Sex, her longed-for meeting with the proposed subject of her dissertation, intellectual French writer Francine, turns a fascination into a full-blown crush. Attempting to impress her, she ends up deceiving both Francine and Jansen. Her writer's block has repercussions for all her relationships, including that with her younger sister Elizabeth, whom May envies and resents for her carefree attitude to life. As any procrastinator will know, if you put things off for long enough, the situation either resolves itself or explodes. In May's case, her relationships with Jansen, Francine and Elizabeth reach breaking point, and can only be resolved by May finally taking responsibility for her own decisions.

Sounds a bit depressing, doesn't it? However, Mia Farlane's debut novel is a mainly light-hearted, easy read - essentially lesbian chick-lit. Thinking about it afterwards, it put me in mind of Jane Austen's Emma – May Woodlea, like Emma Woodhouse, is attracted to the idea of romantic Francine (or Frank Churchill). May's blunder with her sister eventually helps her learn to take responsibility for her mistakes and apologise, reminiscent of Emma's insult to Miss Bates. In terms of the standard of writing and observation, it stands up well in terms of typical chick-lit. There are some excellent, ambivalent, multi-faceted characters, as well as some amusing stereotypes.

However, I do feel the description of this book, as supplied by the publishers, is a little disingenuous. Everything about this book's cover looks like typical chick-lit – flowery duvet cover and all. However, there is a telling quote above the title – a compliment from Sarah Waters. That may give potential readers a clue about May's sexuality – or not. The marketing team seem to be playing the pronoun game, helped by May's partner's ambiguous name – Jansen. Additionally, I wondered if the book had been read carefully by the publisher – the foreword contains a mistake. It says Jansen is an old flame of the French writer (Francine) – that's incorrect.

I genuinely believe that there are crossover qualities in this book – it shouldn't be in a lesbian niche, as there are valid and amusing comments made on relationships which apply to all. However, I feel that potential purchasers need to understand what they are getting. If you've come looking in Footnotes To Sex for a Mr Darcy, you'll be disappointed. There, I've said it. If you've come looking for Ms Darcy, you'll be utterly delighted, and if you just want a relaxing read about relationships, you'll be pretty happy too.

Thanks to the publisher, Viking for Penguin Books, for kindly sending Footnotes To Sex to Bookbag.

If you want more quality chick-lit, Any Way You Want Me by Lucy Diamond covers similar ground to Footnotes To Sex. Stick or Twist by Eleanor Moran is another good example of the genre – a well-crafted, entertaining read. You might enjoy Whilst I Was Out by Sara Stewart but our reviewer wasn't over-impressed. Our Young Man by Edmund White was better, much better.

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