READING a Jenny Colgan novel is like eating a giant, cheap, pink marshmallow.
The Little Shop Of Happy-Ever-After by Jenny Colgan | Sphere, £7.99
It seems like a deliciously indulgent idea at the time, but after a couple of bites, you really wish you hadn’t. Her latest offering is straight out of the mould of her previous books. A sweet, slightly ditzy girl (this one is called Nina) decides to leave the big, evil, corporate world and open up a small business in a rural idyll. She is faced with a number of obstacles along the way, but her winsome ways and ability to charm surly but handsome men (“cute guys!” Colgan gushes on the back-page blurb) see her succeed in the end.
The story is fine, if a little sugary for my taste. But what is particularly grating about The Little Shop Of Happy-Ever-After is its treatment of Scotland. Colgan is a Scot, yet her portrayal of her homeland is about as realistic as a literary love child of Braveheart and Monarch Of The Glen, with a dose of Little House On the Prairie thrown in for added sweetness. When ex-librarian Nina – a wannabe mobile book shop owner – first arrives in the Highland town of Kirrinfief, having passed through “foreign” Edinburgh on a night bus, she meets a man named Alasdair. Of course she does. He is a big, friendly, pub landlord who dishes up hunks of bread and “local cheeses” and says things like “The snow’s barely melted off the peak lands”. There are other characters called things like Lennox and Archie, some of whom stride around moodily tending to birthing sheep, while still smouldering with sex appeal.
A hot Latvian train driver called Marek is thrown in for a bit of exoticism – and serves to demonstrate that Colgan does not restrict her stereotyping to Scotland. “You are young. You are healthy, you have van,” says dark-eyed Marek, solemnly. “Many people from my country would think you were very lucky.” His country. That would be Latvia, then, a full member of the EU, which has a faster rate of GDP growth than the UK and an impressively shrinking unemployment rate.
An English girl who appears to have never previously left her hometown of Birmingham, Nina is amazed by the clean air in Scotland and is bowled over by the swathes of local produce available in the friendly village shop (including, again, the “local cheeses”). No Spar in Kirrinfief, then?
Nina then has to win over sceptical locals, which she does with great charm.
The Little Shop Of Happy-Ever-After is readable and predictable. Those with a particularly sweet tooth may well enjoy it. In future, I’m going to stick to the local cheeses.