Perfect Strangers
by Robyn Sisman, contemporary (1998)
Penguin, 5.99, ISBN 0-14-027440-5


Perfect Strangers can't shake off the ghost of Sleepless In Seattle that keeps lurking around its belfry, but nonetheless, it makes a very pleasant romance. I was half-expecting neurotic man-needy women when I first opened this book, man-needy desperate women being the norm subject for female Brit authors when they write a "modern-day comedy", but to my surprise and delight, the heroine is actually fun and very likeable.

Suze Wilding is an arty-farty designer working in advertising company in London. When one of her colleagues defected to enemy camp just when he was due for some exchange program with the sister company in New York, Suze gets picked to take over. She is delighted. Bye bye boring England and dull, fat English men who think nothing of mocking fat women while patting their own beer bellies! Sun, fun, New York - here she comes!

Lloyd Rockwell is a very proper, very boring New Yorker who is a star player in his company. When he is assigned to work in London, he is delighted. London, the home of elegance, style, sobriety, and poetry!

So Lloyd and Suze exchange homes and lives for a year. Both are about to experience the culture shock of their lives.

Along the way, Lloyd starts having second thoughts about his girlfriend, and Suze has fun, lots of fun, until she realizes that someone is plotting to get rid of Lloyd from the company. She contacts him, and - can we say, long-distance attraction?

It is quite fun to realize that until they finally meet at the last few chapters, they have no idea how the other look like except through old or faded photographs in the houses they are living in. They can only guess at each other's personality. For instance, when Lloyd finds some naughty lacy undies tucked under the bed, he gets ideas.

And I love Suze, who is a smart, spunky lady who is determined to have fun even when things are stacked against her. This is no Meg Ryan heroine, this is more of a wily Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl lady.

However, I can't help feeling some distaste at the way the author treats the other characters in the story, including the female villain and the hero. The villain gets humiliated and sacked for trying to break the glass ceiling by seducing those fat stupid men whose favors she has to curry, while these same fat stupid men got off scot-free. The hero never actually does anything. The heroine saves his butt, and he dumps the (admittedly crazy) girlfriend of his even after this crazy girlfriend has spent months cleaning his things, baking him cakes, sleeping with him even when she doesn't feel like it, and generally being his stupid doormat. I could say this dumb woman deserves her dumping, but the thing is, Lloyd should get some hard knock in the head too for taking her for granted.

And Suze? The anti-marriage firebrand in the beginning shows signs of being the new doormat in Lloyd's life by the end.

I'm not too sure if the author is mocking romance rather than celebrating it, if you ask me. Anyway, disturbing overtones about love making complete morons out of women aside (which is quite true at times, or Springer will be out of business by now), this book is quite enjoyable.

Rating: 77


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