Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Book Review: Rich Again by Anna Maxted

Worst. Book. Ever.

I don't know -- I feel like I've maybe read worse, but can't think of anything off the top of my head. So Rich Again is the latest gem from Anna Maxted, a chick lit writer who I used to love but has let me down immensely before... her book Running In Heels was the one where, 200 pages in, the main character is suddenly anorexic, with no hints leading up to it. As I'm fond of saying, I should have known better. But I was taken in by the cute cover, and by the fact that I was buying a PD James mystery at the time, along with Drood and The Count of Monte Cristo (Unabridged), and knew I was going to need something light to go along with all that. So I gave Anna another chance. And let me assure you, she has failed, and thus her chances are all used up.

The book is about the fabulously wealthy Kent family of England -- the father was disgraced during the Lloyd's debacle of the early 1990s, but the stepmother had the foresight to move all of his hotel empire holdings into her own name several years before, thus ensuring the family held onto most of its fortune. There is a daughter of the father's first marriage named Claudia, and a daughter of the second marriage named Emily. Claudia is supposed to be the character we root for, because she is nice and was treated cruelly by the stepmother and has turned her back on the family to make her own way in the world as a journalist. However? Claudia is totally fucking boring. And that's why no one gives a shit about her.

And then there's Emily, who we see at age 14 on page 1, planning a huge party at her mummy's Hollywood mansion. Emily is a whore, yet still a virgin. She is a disgusting human being. She's smart, but utterly stupid at the same time. I suspect that we're supposed to have some sympathy for her, but since the writer clearly hates her, and writes every single line about her with poison positively dripping from her pen, there's no way we'll ever locate our sympathy. Late in the book, a few years down the road, Emily gets her children taken away from her by Social Services -- the whole thing supposedly engineered by the real villain. But the thing is, she totally deserved to get her kids taken away.

The dad Jack is emotionally unavailable to everyone in his life following the death of his first wife (Claudia's mother). The parts narrated in his voice just make him come off like a whiny douchebag. Like we're going to feel sorry for him. He marries Innocence, but he hates her. He's in Paris getting a hotel ready to open and falls in love with Maria, the housekeeping manager who turns out to be Claudia's birth mother. Yeah, by the way? Claudia's adopted. About 1/3 of the way through the book there's this scene that takes place in Italy somewhere and two people have just gotten married and are all swoony and happy but you're not supposed to know who these two people are. But it's TOTALLY fucking obvious that it's Jack and Maria, and that we'll eventually find out that his marriage to Innocence was never legal or some stupid shit like that.

Meanwhile, Claudia has fallen in love with an older guy at work, who turns out to be her birth father. Luckily her sister Emily figures this out before Claudia gives up her goodies, but the way Claudia goes about breaking things off with the guy is beyond ludicrous: she lets him catch her getting it from behind while bent over a desk from a slimy coworker that everyone hates, Claudia included. Instead of, oh, I don't know, telling her fiance that she's his long lost daughter, she gets all pissy about it and concocts this scenario in her head where he banged her birth mother and abandoned her, never knowing she was even pregnant. Of course we know from Maria that this scenario is far from the truth. But the record is never set straight, not in 734 pages. I hate that kind of shit.

And true to Anna Maxted's new style, I guess, on page 200 we are introduced to the real villain. Out of nowhere, we learn that Claudia's mom and Jack had adopted a baby boy named Nathan to "complete" their family, but Claudia's mom dies before the adoption is finalized and Jack, who has never bonded with the boy at all, turns him back over to family services or whatever. Because apparently in England you can't adopt a child without a mother in the home or some shit, or maybe it was just "back then." It's all very convoluted and contrived so that the author can create a villain with a vendetta against the family; what she failed to realize is that these people are all fucking assholes and "what goes around comes around" and eventually they would have screwed themselves -- she didn't need to add a real villain to get the job done.

So this kid grows up abused by the foster care system and turns into a psychopath who eventually murders his birth mother and then goes off to Hollywood and becomes this big huge Oscar-winning star, and all the while is masterminding the downfall of the entire Kent clan. We're supposed to not be sure when we meet Ethan Summers the movie star whether or not he's also Nathan the crazy psycho. But the writing is so shitty and the plot so thin that of course we know... unless we are a halfwit, I guess.

Eventually he kills Emily and somehow convinces Claudia to marry him even though the whole family hates him because they believe he's responsible for Emily's kids getting injured in his house and subsequently taken away by Social Services and placed in foster care. Sorry, but I just don't see Claudia falling for someone like him and agreeing to marry him. Also? There is a gaping plot hole where we're expected to believe he planned out the entire thing where Emily's kids get placed in foster care, but there's no way he could have possible known that Emily would end up with him and the kids be hanging around. Also, the amount of time he spent with the kids just wouldn't have happened -- he was a case study in despising other children growing up and I just don't think he would've been able to fake it that well. Not even as good an actor as he's supposed to be.

But whatever. He kills Emily, helps Claudia get the kids back, convinces her to marry him, and then moves in to kill her and the rest of the family on the wedding night. He has somehow managed to convince his former psychologist to be his personal and murdering assistant, by the way, and they manage to kidnap the kids and tie Claudia up and then the dad and stepmom come to the rescue. Except there's just no way a psychopath like this would've let everyone live as long as he does. Eventually he only kills Jack the dad as stepmother Innocence kills him and the crazy assistant. So Claudia and the children live happily ever after and she marries her old childhood friend Alfie, who she was in love with all along.

Does it sound stupid? Because it is. Better writing could have made it palatable. But I suspect Maxted was trying to write a thriller, and she doesn't have the proper skills -- mood setting, character building for many different types of people, etc. The villain character, for example, comes off like his backstory was copied rote from a sociology case file -- bad foster care, failure to bond, presto! Psycho. Which is both boring and annoying in a book.

I can't believe I spent 5 hours of my life reading this book, but since I did, I guess I can warn the rest of you not to follow suit.


Georgias Maximus, Feline Esq. said...

Read Cyteen. :->

Georgias Maximus, Feline Esq. said...

Count of Monte Cristo is not a heavy read, really.