Helen Bradshaw, 26, has a lot to get over. A dogsbody job on a women's magazine. An attraction to unsuitable men. Being five foot one. Driving an elderly Toyota.
She is about to ditch the infuriating Jasper when she hears the news that will change her life. Her father has collapsed with a massive heart attack. Initially Helen thinks of this as an interruption in her already chaotic lifestyle. But with his death everything starts to fall apart around her - her relationship, her mother, even her cat.
Her flatmate Luke has the tact of a traffic warden with toothache, her friend Tina is in love with her new man, her landlord Marcus is in love with himself, and, after the tequila incident, it looks as though Tom the vet will be sticking to Alsatians. Seems like Helen will be dealing with this one herself...
Had Maxted published this sharp, witty tale of a British woman's love life and real life before the Bridget Jones phenomenon, Fielding's novel might have been noted as a pale comparison. Written in a hip, readable, often poignant and always funny style, protagonist Helen Bradshaw's story is set in modern-day London, where the 20-something editorial assistant comes to terms with her father's death and her own life. The plot spans one year, beginning with the day Helen learns of her father's fatal heart attack. Helen struggles with faithless boyfriend, Jasper; her self-centered but sexy landlord, Marcus; and her solipsistic "best friend," Michelle. Meanwhile, her demanding and unsupportive boss at GirlTime magazine cracks the whip. A complex part of Helen's healing process is repairing her relationship with her overbearing mother, Cecilia, who, though she mourns her husband inconsolably, eventually finds new direction in her life. Helen discovers real love in the patient and humorous veterinarian, Tom, and she learns enough about real friendship to hold onto her loyal, true buddies Lizzy, Luke and Tina, saving the latter's life in the process. As she stumbles from one crisis to another, Helen is always likable, even if the decisions she makes often make the reader want to give her a good shake. Although the narrative tackles many issues, from the loss of a parent to the horrors of domestic violence, Maxted's bouncy, upbeat tone never falters. Revealing a touch for comic timing and versatility, she paints scenes of hilarious pratfalls, biting sarcasm and heart-wrenching pathos. While comparison between this work and Fielding's is unavoidable, Maxted's laugh-out-loud debut novel will come out ahead.