RSVP by Helen Warner

Anna’s world is rocked when she receives an invitation to her ex Toby’s nuptials – Toby was The One, The Love of Her Life, The One That Got Away. Will attending his Big Day finally give her the sense of closure she so desperately craves? Or will it only re-open old wounds? Clare is Anna’s best friend, the person who was there for her when she and Toby split all those years ago. But little does Clare know that Toby’s wedding day will also change her own life for ever. Ella is a classic femme fatale. She loves men and leaves them without a backward glance. But the one person who’s never fallen for her charms is Toby. As he prepares to get hitched, is it too late for a last-ditch attempt to win his heart? Finally, Rachel is the blushing bride-to-be. This should be the happiest day of her life. So how come she feels nothing but a terrible sense of foreboding?
 

Helen Warner’s debut novel RSVP is one I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard about it. It sounded like a really amazing novel, and that if done correctly it could very much launch Warner as a must-read Chick Lit author. But what really sold the book to me was the cover. It’s a lovely light blue set out like a real wedding invitation with the title in an embossed font. It’s hugely appealing (I’m a total sucker for a pretty cover and RSVP’s cover is one of the best I’ve ever seen). It looks even better in real life, with a chocolate covered ribbon as a bookmark. I couldn’t wait to dive in, and for the most part, I enjoyed the book but I did have a few niggles.

Despite looking and sounding very wedding-y, RSVP isn’t chockful of weddings as you might expect. Although a wedding does play a major role in the novel, the major focus of the novel is pre-wedding and post-wedding with only a few pages dedicated to the actual wedding itself. But because the wedding in question changes a lot of things, it does make it an integral part of the novel, because without the wedding we wouldn’t have our story now, would we? The wedding in question is that of Toby and Rachel, who after being together for six years have now decided to get married. After making a pact with his university friends, Toby then invites his ex, Anna, who hasn’t exactly gotten over him despite the fact they haven’t been a couple for a decade. Along with her best friend Clare, they decide to attend the wedding in the hope of getting some closure. Also invited is Ella, the girl at the center of Anna and Toby’s break-up, who is now unhappily married to Max. It’s a brilliant plot, and I was definitely wondering what was going to go down at Toby and Rachel’s wedding. And it didn’t let me down.

The first half of the book is very impressive, it pulled me in like a good’un, but after the wedding fiasco, I found my interest dwindling a little bit. During the first half of the book there are numerous flashbacks, explaining how Anna and Toby met, got together and eventually split up and how Ella was a part of that. But in the second half, there are no more flashbacks, and it was mainly full-steam ahead in present day 2010. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of good plot points, Ella and Clare’s stories in particular kept me hooked but the Rachel/Anna/Toby triangle was a bit drab. I liked the fact the big dramatic part of the novel wasn’t saved until the end but was instead put in half-way, but all that excitement kind of leant the end of the Rachel/Anna/Toby story to a bit of a flat conclusion. But Ella’s story in particular kept me gripped, which I have to admit surprised me because for the first portion of the novel I couldn’t stand her.

The characters are interesting, to say the least. Despite the fact that I found Anna to be a very warm and likeable character, I did question how she could still be hung up on somebody a decade later. Maybe it is possible, but it’s the kind of thing that seems improbable. I did like Anna, though, very much and through the flashbacks I could see why she was so devoted (though I still didn’t ‘get’ it). Clare was probably my favourite character, she’s not as central as Anna and doesn’t get as much page-time, but I liked her and I liked her plot. Like I said in my previous paragraph, I didn’t like Ella for the first half of the book, but she grows up a lot as the novel progresses and in the end I couldn’t help liking her. She has a bit of a tough time, realises the error of her ways and all that, and eventually there is a light at the tunnel to show she can be a better person. As for Rachel, I expected to hate her, I really did, for ‘stealing’ Toby. But, actually, she was a fantastic character. I’d have even liked to have seen more of her. There aren’t many male characters in the novel, just Toby, James, Max and Marco and all were very well written.

RSVP is written in a very peculiar way. The bulk of the novel is set in 2010, and for that, Warner has gone for a third-person-present-tense narrative which, I must admit, I found strange. I love the present tense narrative, but I don’t believe it’s right to use when writing from third-person. It didn’t mesh well with me, and it would have been a lot easier to use past tense, it must have been a total pain to make sure it was all (excuse the pun) present and correct. Not only that, though, but because we had flashbacks, they were told in past tense, so the alternative tenses could get annoying. I found it easy to switch back and forth, I just didn’t like the use of the present tense. The novel is very easy to get into though, and up until the wedding fiasco, it was well on course to become one of my favourite novels. However the pace slowed and I did find that it dragged a little after that, particularly where Anna was concerned. As far as debut novels go, it was enjoyable and I did want to see how it was all going to pan out, particularly for Ella and Clare. I would recommend the book, and I will be reading Warner’s next novel, I was just a bit disappointed with the lack of pace during the last 200 pages.

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