Friday 26 March 2010

Kiss Chase by Fiona Walker

Felix Sylvian is a charming, silken-tongued dilettante, he has the sex-appeal of a school-girl's day-dream and the soul of a poet. But he has one nasty habit he can't seem to break: a sadistic tendency to ride rough-shod over any girl foolish enough to fall for him. Saskia Seaton is Felix's latest victim. Once a beautiful, precocious aspiring actress, she is now a suicidal wreck after a whirlwind affair with Felix and a force ten finale. Retreating to lick her wounded pride, she decides she wants poetic justice. And her friend Phoebe's the one to get it. With Saskia's help, Phoebe will become Felix's dream woman. She will pursue him across his London playground and seduce him until he falls in love with her and then she'll drop him just as he has so many women in the past. But Phoebe doesn't realise that when she tries to break Felix's nasty habit, she'll find herself breaking her own heart...

Well, let's not beat around the bush here - the plot to Kiss Chase (originally published in 1995) is downright ludicrous, even taking the genre into account. The idea that a person would be so heartbroken as to take revenge *that* far is just not realistic at all.

Taking this into account, the book is very, very readable. It is a big sprawling mess, which could have done with an edit and perhaps several fewer erroneous characters (who seemed to be added whenever Fiona Walker needed an additional person to walk into a scene), and yet I found myself compulsively turning pages and absolutely gripped by the tale of Phoebe and Felix.

Even though the plot is tiresome and most of the character motivations are extremely suspect, at its heart this is a novel about finding the absolute right person and falling in love when you never expected to. The best part of the novel are the exchanges between Felix and Phoebe, when it is easy to identify with the stomach-churning, free-falling emotion of lust and then love.

"Then it happened. That sticky, quivering moment where any vestige of conversation is rendered impossible as a great yawning pause stretches out between two people whose eyes are hopelessly locked in one another's gaze. The pause becomes an aching, tension-loaded silence and the silence becomes a desperately embarrassing, thoroughly enjoyable suspension of all around as hormones, pheromones, moisture and adrenalin drench two mutually attracted bodies."

The dialogue between all the characters crackles with great humour and spiky attitude - sometimes it is a little too self-consciously clever and I howled at times with the expectation that I was supposed to believe real people would say what these characters did. For instance:

" 'This Bank Holiday weekend party,' she said slowly, 'is going to be a wine, dine and minefield.' "

I also adored some of Fiona Walker's random references and similes - a couple of them had me Googling exactly what she meant, so that I could enjoy them all the more.

"She was reasonably good at dramatic exits, but this was getting close to Turandot flinging herself off the battlements only to find that the stage crew had replaced the air cushion with a trampoline."

The book is unfortunately horrifically dated, with mentions of Concorde and French francs (certainly my edition was - I don't know if this has been changed and updated for more recent prints). It doesn't affect the story at all, but occasionally you feel a little jarred out of the prose because of these occurrences.

Walker has a fabulous way with words, especially in terms of describing characters: usually I find this boring and unnecessary, but she paints beautiful pictures which enable me to visualise them exactly. In addition to this, I love the way that Walker will show a character like Phoebe both from her perspective (e.g. how she imagines herself to look) and then from the point of view of another character looking at her - this is so realistic (I suspect we all think that we're less attractive than other people think we are!) and also presents the idea that beauty is only really in the eye of the beholder.

Anyone who has read the exploits of Rupert Campbell-Black in Jilly Cooper's celebrated bonkbusters will devour Kiss Chase and find that Felix Sylvian takes a place in their hearts. Altogether, this is a wonderful book for bath or beach - breathlessly sexy, very clever and unexpectedly heart-warming.

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