Book Review: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

love walked inLOVE WALKED IN
By Marisa de los Santos
Publisher: Viking, 307 pages
(ISBN: 978-0670916177)

I’m not normally a fan of chicklit but I loved this book. In fact, if I hadn’t lent it to someone practically the moment I finished reading it, I’d be rereading it now.

Here’s why I like it so much:

1. It makes me happy and peaceful and thoughtful. How many chicklit novels do that?

2. The heroine Cornelia Brown is kind and gracious and her head is screwed on the right way round and ever so securely. I like heroines you can admire and imagine as your best friend. I do not like heroines who are neurotic about their weight and obsessed with finding a man, and do stupid things like run up huge debts cos they are shopaholics, or lie in order to get a date. Nothing worse than a desperate woman. Brown is not desperate. Quite the opposite.

3. The other heroine, Clare, who is eleven and lovely, vulnerable and adorable.

4. One of the male leads, a beautiful man called Mateo Sandoval who also happens to be sensitive, smart and generous in all ways. And he’s straight!

5. The unpredictable storyline: Cornelia meets the man of her dreams (a Cary Grant lookalike). She then meets his daughter. And …? I’m not saying the ending comes out of nowhere and bites you in the bum: As you turn the pages and learn more about the characters, you begin to see and suspect how things might turn out, but it’s never ever a dead cert. De los Santos keeps you in suspense and guessing all the way, and the ending is one that leaves room for all kinds of wonderful possibilities and developments. I hope she writes a sequel. (29th August, 2016: She did, but I didn’t like it.)

Lovewalkedin2This full-length review of Love Walked In appeared on 24th February 2006 in The Star.

Happy with an ache

I ADORE happy endings! Don’t you? Doesn’t everyone? Actually, I remember a time when I didn’t. I wanted my reading matter to be full of misery, violence, hate and angst. I turned up my nose at books filled with love, kisses and smiles, and considered happy endings passé, even trite. But that was when I was young and foolish. Foolish! A blithering pompous ass, more like it!

Well, you’ve probably figured out that Love Walked In is a happy book with a happy ending. It’s not, however, the sort of happy book in which there is no sadness, hurt or heartbreak. Oh, there’s a great deal of tears and anguish and loss here. However, there’s also a lot of mending and healing and, by the final page, every broken heart is well on its way to being whole again.

So, it’s not a fairytale and not quite happily-ever-after – it’s happiness with a bit of ache on the side, because you can’t appreciate joy without sorrow.

The last time a book made me feel this way was Jostein Gaarder’s The Orange Girl. That was a lovely book too, made up of equal parts agony and ecstasy. Such stories are few and far between: Elizabeth Bowen’s A World of Love; Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Now this. And, of course, it being the age of unoriginal screenplays, it’s about to be thoroughly spoilt by being made into a film. Yes, de los Santos has sold the film rights of her first novel to Sarah Jessica “Carrie Bradshaw” Parker’s production company. And the film will star (surprise, surprise) Parker herself!

I knew this before reading the book. And so, when I was reading it, I kept getting these pictures in my head of Parker as Cornelia Brown, the heroine of Love Walked In. And you know what? They’d never stick. Parker is no Brown, never was and never will be. Blame it onSex and the City, but, to me, the actress will forever be the girl who threw away the love of a good man to be with a lying, cheating scoundrel. That’s something Cornelia would never do. Not in a million years.

I admit it. I love Cornelia Brown. What a wonderful woman! I love her because she’s warm and loving. I love her wit, her generosity and her compassion. I love her because her favourite film is The Philadelphia Story, which, in my book, means she has impeccable taste.

Cornelia’s love for beautiful things is also lovable. She doesn’t love frivolously beautiful things like Manolo Blahniks and clothes she can’t afford but charges to her credit card anyway, but beautiful things like a falling-to-pieces antique chandelier that she buys for a song and then, with infinite patience and care, restores to its full and former glory.

Of course, her love for beauty also means that she thinks Cary Grant is “the best man in the world” and although this is something I cannot relate to or understand, I forgive her because even when a Cary Grant look-alike enters her life, Cornelia doesn’t allow this dream-come-true to cloud her better judgment.

Martin Grace, “a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit” walks into the cafe Cornelia manages and changes her life. In her words, “My life – my real life – started when a man walked into it”. She worries about how this statement sounds – will it be greeted with snorts of derision and scorn? It’s the sort of statement that countless love stories are based around and upon. A silly, romantic statement that usually means that the heroine is a melodramatic floozy. Not in this case though.

Because, when Martin Grace walks into Cornelia’s life, it really does change things. Martin Grace walks in and it changes the shape and texture and tone of Cornelia’s life and it really amounts to love walking in because he leads Cornelia to find true love, but only in a way that is totally unexpected.

That’s part of the book’s charm – that it isn’t as predictable as most chicklit tends to be. Apart from anything else, for once, the heroine’s biological clock isn’t going crazy; for once, the heroine isn’t defensive about being single; for once, she’s not obsessing about her weight or her job; for once, the male characters are beautiful but not gay.

And then, there’s Clare.

Clare is Martin’s daughter. Clare lives with Viviana, her mum who is lovely, loving and lovable until she loses it and abandons her scared and bewildered 11-year-old child. Martin, who has been keeping deliberately distant for years, suddenly finds that he has to be father to a child he doesn’t know and doesn’t love. What does he do? He hands her over to Cornelia.

Carrie Bradshaw? Sorry, but I can’t imagine what she’d do with a depressed 11-year-old. Probably mix her a Cosmopolitan and take her shopping at Sak’s. The good news is I don’t have to watch the film when it comes out (although I’m sure my curiosity will get the better of me) and neither need you. But even if you decide to, it doesn’t matter so long as you read the book first. You have to read the book first because you have to experience the beautiful story, witty heroine and elegant writing before Hollywood ruins it, which, I feel in my bones, it will.

Only the very cynical, very mean-spirited could fail to be heartened and delighted by Love Walked In. Reading it, I not only felt happy, but also thankful and thoughtful. That’s a good thing at any price. I cried over the final few pages and when I put it down, I laughed a crazy laugh that made my sons grin and dance like wild things.

“Why are you laughing like that, Mama?” asked my three-year-old.

“Because I’m so happy it hurts,” I said. That’s the best kind of happy, don’t you think?

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