Learning Curves by Gemma Townley

by - 3/13/2006

It’s the story of a young Londoner, Jennifer Bell, who gets caught in the maelstrom brewing between her acrimoniously divorced parents who’re owners of rival consulting firms. While her mother Harriet’s firm is a leftist, supposedly eco-conscious firm that’s begun a rapid slide into bankruptcy, her father George runs a purely commercially inclined and commercially successful one. Manipulated by her mom into spying on her dad to get proof he’s involved in the growing scandal of shoddy construction work in a post tsunami-ravaged Indonesia, Jennifer begins by joining the MBA course run on premises by George’s firm. She hates her father for having left her and her mother and she’s determined to hate his firm and the MBA course as well. Things soon change. She finds she’s surprisingly good at the business course and she falls for cute instructor, Daniel. Jen is no Jane Bond and soon after getting caught by her dad, realizes there’re two sides to every story. The pivotal question here is which side should she believe?

The story is a so-so one. Reason being it tries hard to be a lot of things at once and fails at being good at even one. The need for eco-consciousness at a global scale smacks at a lofty, serious tone but is used mainly as a prop for the ensuing family drama of which there is plenty. The MBA course gives a business-like form and indeed, readers are given a crash course in it during the course of the novel. This makes for tedious reading. What humor there is, is of the adoloscent kind arising mainly from Jen’s initial choice of a condom company as the class’ business model. The resultant wisecracks and puns would have made Austin Powers proud. And then there is that tiny touch of ethnic flavor, (that might as well have not been there, so underused it is) in the form of Jen’s best friend Angel who’s facing her own issues thanks to being an Indian growing up in London in the bosom of a traditional family.

Central protagonist Jen is the biggest disappointment as she vacillates so constantly and switches sides, allegiances and opinions so much as to make readers seasick. The only time the book comes close to sincerity is when Jen faces her abandonment issues and learns that not everything is life is black or white and that in between there are countless gray shades. This includes her parents, her ex and current boyfriends and even herself. Daniel chafes at being stuck in management reading reports while he could have been out in the middle of the people browsing his bookstores. This too could have been interesting, but fails largely due to Daniel’s reluctance to take steps to remedy the situation up until the end, by which time readers are sick of it. Other supporting cast drift on and off the story, sometimes good, sometimes bad. There is some suspense and it’s intertwined with the intriguing family drama and that's the second thing that redeems this othewise watery novel. But the romance feels like a drive-by, firmly taking a remote back seat to the other elements in the story. The story promises much, but fails to fulfil most of them.

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