What happens when you get EXACTLY what you wish for? This is the dilemma presented to Helen, a 39-year-old “Personal Assistant” (codeword for secretary – not exactly Helen’s dream job). For four years, Helen has been having an affair with Matthew, her one-time boss at a London-based PR firm that represents the “15 minutes of fame” people you loathe to call celebrities. And for those four years, Helen has been urging Matthew to leave his wife, Sophie, and two daughters. They say wishes don’t come true, but Helen’s actually does. One day, Matthew shows up on the doorstep of Helen’s one-bedroom flat with a suitcase and pronounces his marriage as over – he has left Sophie. And so Helen’s nightmare begins.
The message of the novel is clear: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” As Helen adjusts to life with Matthew, she finds herself becoming more and more miserable. This leads her to reevaluate everything in her life, including her job. But her primary concern is what to do about Matthew, especially after attempts to break up with him fail miserably.
Getting Rid of Matthew is a unique look at “the other woman.” Traditionally in chick lit, the sympathetic character is the victim of an affair, rather than the cause. However, Fallon does an exceptional job in making the reader understand Helen’s decisions. The reader really empathizes with Helen’s situation. She isn’t painted as a monster with no feelings – indeed, she continually wrestles with the guilt of Matthew leaving his family for her. Fallon does not try to sugarcoat the reality of the situation in order to make Helen a more sympathetic character, and it pays off. The situations seem real, and the characters are three-dimensional.
The book is also extremely funny. Fallon’s wit shines through as perhaps the best part of the novel. Helen continually finds herself in more and more absurd situations, especially as she seeks Matthew’s wife out under an assumed identity (Eleanor) in order to learn more about her and assuage the guilt. The reader can sense this tangled web of fibs and lies getting increasingly complicated by the page and can see that it is all about to come crashing down at any moment. Fallon’s wit keeps this from being awkward and makes each page enjoyable, rather than stomach-clenching.
One issue that Fallon could have clarified is the narration change in the book. The narration switches between Helen and Sophie with no clear break – all of a sudden, the narrator will switch without the reader realizing it. Fallon should have used the chapter breaks to switch the person telling the story; as it is, it gets very confusing.
In the end, the book is about friendship and love: Helen trying to handle Matthew, Helen’s attempts to win over Matthew’s teenage daughters (one of whom despises her, the other just wanting to be loved), Helen’s attraction to a new mystery man she meets through Sophie, whose real identity throws her for a loop, and finally, the surprisingly real friendship that Helen develops with Sophie. The real charm in the book lies in Helen’s introspection and analysis of all these relationships and the personal growth that develops from them. At the beginning of the book, Helen is a bit petty and doesn’t consider the consequences of her decisions. Throughout the book, as she considers the mess she has created, Helen matures as a character, which is enjoyable to read. Fallon does an excellent job of taking a traditional story about a wife, a cheating husband, and the woman on the side and telling it to us in a unique and enjoyable way.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Swapna Krishna, 2007