I’ve talked in the past about the three elements I look for in a book. The plot, prose and characters. Usually 2/3 need to be in place for me to enjoy a book, or sometimes one can be so impressive you overlook the others.
Fortunately for readers Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive offers some page-turning intrigue and is (wordy but) well-written because its lead character, well….
Ani FaNelli is the woman you love to hate. The woman who has it all. But behind the meticulously crafted façade lies the darkest and most violent of pasts . . .
When a documentary producer invites Ani to tell her side of the chilling and violent incident that took place when she was a teenager, she hopes it will be an opportunity to prove how far she’s come since then. She’ll even let the production company film her wedding to the wealthy Luke Harrison, the final step in her transformation.
But as the wedding and filming converge, Ani’s immaculate façade begins to crack, and she soon realises that there’s always a price to pay for perfection.
I did not hate Ani because she has it all. I hated Ani because she’s a vapid, superficial, elitist, arrogant bitch. I’ve liked fictional serial killers and psychopaths more than I liked TifAni FaNelli.
I’ve felt antipathy towards characters, or hated their murderous ways, but rarely have I been disappointed in them. Which I most certainly was with TifAni FaNelli. (Although she was in trouble from the get-go with a name like that!)
TifAni’s story is told in a couple of different timeframes. Twenty-eight year old Ani is a features writer at Women’s Magazine, predominantly writing about sex and sucking up to colleagues while working out how to crawl over their bloodied bodies. She’s also busy flashing her expensive antique engagement ring for all and sundry to see while racking up expenses using an American Express card which Luke pays.
I had six leisurely years to get to where I am now: fiancé in finance, first-name basis with the hostess at Locanda Verde, the latest Chloe hooked over my wrist (not Celine, but at least I knew better than to parade around a monstrous Louise Vuitton like it was the eighth wonder of the world). Plenty of time to hone my craft. (pg.6)
We also meet TifAni as a ninth grader starting a new school having been expelled from the Catholic School she’d previously attended. A typical young teen TifAni goes all out to hang with the cool kids: new wardrobe and hair, losing weight and new attitude. I’d like to say I liked young TifAni but—while she wasn’t as horrendous as older Ani—she wasn’t terribly pleasant. Full of self-pity and a massive chip on her shoulder she felt hard done by. I realise wealth is relative but it didn’t sound like TifAni missed out on much from her hardworking father and BMW driving mother. Nevertheless, she did what it took to fit in. Which (#spoileralert) wasn’t pretty. (The innocence of youth and all of that!)
It takes some time but we slowly learn how (and why) TifAni became Ani and why (in adulthood) she clings to ‘acceptance’ even more than she did as a teenager.
Have I mentioned how much I disliked (Tif)Ani?
Yes? Okay then. The good thing is we’re supposed to. I’m hoping it’s not just because we’re supposed to be jealous of her, though I’m trying to remember if (as a naive twenty-something) I once would have been impressed by someone like her. I hope not, but I’m not sure. Perhaps there’s an entire world out there where ‘class’ matters in a way that’s more about money than integrity and I’m oblivious.
Thankfully however, there are occasional hints from Knoll, that Ani knows what she’s become and hasn’t entirely succumbed to the Kool Aid.
A turning point for me was when Ani tells her best friend Nell that she taught her how to ‘operate every single person in my life’. Although I didn’t LOVE love teenage TifAni, it was nice to know the less-superficial version was still there somewhere.
I didn’t find Ani’s current-day support cast particularly strong, but felt the characters introduced during TifAni’s school years had more depth and were more engaging.
Knoll also introduced a few concepts which could have been pursued. We heard a lot about Ani’s mother and understood her father to be quite disengaged with his wife and daughter. There’s a scene where he lies about where he’s going and TifAni spies him just sitting in his car. This isn’t further explored, but could have been. We don’t know anything about his job or how he supports his family. There are hints her mother lives above their means, but they still seem quite well off.
However… this book kept me turning page after page as I tried my best to understand Ani (Indeed, I really enjoyed the last third of this novel!). Her desperate need to reinvent herself and establish a facade has to have come from somewhere.
I have to admit to being more judgemental than I’d like to have been during aspects of this novel, but I suspect Knoll sets out to confront and challenge her readers. And she certainly does that.
I think this book will appeal to a lot of female readers in their 20s and 30s. There’s a quote on the cover of this book from the author of The Devil Wears Prada and Knoll herself was a senior editor at Cosmopolitan (now articles editor at SELF); and she’s already sold the film-rights. As a forty-something I enjoyed the novel but didn’t LOVE it. I’m a bit too jaded (and I’d like to think—evolved?) for that.
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll will be published in Australia via PanMacmillan and available from 1 June 2015.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.