Warner Books, 2001 (ISBN 0446526614)
After receiving Jenny Colgan's second novel, Talking to Addison, my initial impulse was to disregard the book, not giving it much hope for a good review. A bland title combined with cover art featuring two bus mice bussing over a romantic-red mouse pad (complete with dainty pink heart) warned me I might need a cheese grater to get to this novel's finer points.
I find it hard to explain, therefore, why this book came closest of any so far to receiving my first five-star review. Perhaps that serves as a lesson about objectivity and not taking things for their appearances. Whatever the case, Talking to Addison was, without question, the best new novel I read in 2001. And, by reviewing it first in 2002, it sets a high standard for the many others to come.
The story explores basic questions of identity involving four neurotic flatmates, focusing mostly on their romantic interests. The narrator, Holly, is lost in her late 20s, too old to be hip in the subculture but too free-spirited and off-center to fit in with uptight conservatives like her former flatmates. Holly quickly finds herself in love with Addison, a handsome computer nerd who never leaves his room, rarely talks to anyone in the real world including the other people he lives with, and who has a computer girlfriend an ocean away an admittedly ugly woman he has never met (she also never leaves her room). Then there is Josh, some sort of legal assistant with abiguous sexual tendencies he finds himself exploring throughout the book. Kate, the fourth, secretly loves Josh. Kate is less of a flake than the others, but she has her own inner turmoil that leaves her vulnerable for repeatedly getting conned into affairs with married men.
Describing the cast seems enough of a ride to show how fun this book can be. But it gets better. Colgan's novel plays out along a story line of self-discovery and romantic confusion that involves Kit Kats, String theory, Star Trek, politics, and, in one bizarre anti-fairytale twist, a kiss that puts someone IN a coma rather than having the opposite effect. How these things are connected would take at least 309 pages (the length of the novel) to explain.
I found Talking to Addison to be filled from beginning to end with wit and intelligence. It reads like Nick Hornby's High Fidelity without the lists or Success by Martin Amis without angry, self-loathing yuppie men at its center. I predict this book could be a bestseller. Or else it might settle into its role as a cult classic. Has to be one or the other, though. It fits nowhere in between. Recommendation: Ignore the cheesy cover and buy this book in hardback. It entertains from beginning to end without sacrificing the insights into human nature so valuable in a literary work. Take the book home and read it over a three-day weekend when nothing good is playing at the cinema. After that, pick up Colgan's other book, Amanda's Wedding, to see if it also proves a worthwhile read. Well, at least that is what I intend to do. Eventually.