Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review: FLIRTING WITH THE CAMERA by Ros Clarke

flirting with the camera cover

Tom Metcalfe is an ├╝ber-successful fashion photographer. But he wants to be more—he wants to be an artist! To that end, he's planning an exhibit of depressing and hopeless landscapes reflecting the emotional wasteland that is his life. Now he just has to find that punch of humanity and pathos the gallery manager insists he needs. At an open casting call, he makes his way through numerous models; but it's only when Hattie Bell shows up that Tom realizes he's found his muse. Will these two crazy kids get together despite their emotional Issues?

Ahead there be major spoilers...

I picked up Flirting with the Camera because Penny from Penny Romance recommended it, saying it was about "a chunky girl heroine who has good self-esteem and thinks she's beautiful." That sounded unusual and refreshing! And indeed, Hattie had no body issues whatsoever, something I found interesting (and a tad unrealistic, but delightfully so) considering she wants to work in an industry obsessed with appearances and maintaining a certain look.

I loved the character of Hattie, who was over-the-top, confident, and full of personality in a His-Girl-Friday kind of way. She's sexy and doesn't put up with any bullshit. I also liked Tom, despite the fact that the frequency with which he "dragged his eyes" over Hattie's curves made me roll my eyes a few times. Tom's kind of an asshole when we first meet him, which is entirely consistent with my preconceived notions of fashion photographers (anyone seen Blow-Up?), but Ros Clarke does a good job of making him seem like someone who could maybe possibly be a good guy. Deep down in there, somewhere.

The first half of Flirting with the Camera was fun and fast-paced, but then Hattie's photoshoot ended and she and Tom went their separate ways. How would they get back together? I wondered to myself. Now, maybe I was off my game the week I read Flirting with the Camera or something, but for some reason Hattie's deep, dark secret—that she had an abortion when she was younger—didn't warn me that she would magically become pregnant during the course of the book, thus resolving all issues.

boom! pregnant
Yes! I knew I'd find a use for this GIF some day.

I'm not a huge fan of "convenient baby romances" to begin with, but my main problem with Hattie's pregnancy was that it was used as a shortcut to resolving Tom's issues and bringing him and Hattie together in a believable and emotionally satisfying way. They have to get together for the sake of the baby, so Tom abruptly goes from being a complete commitment-phobe who's convinced he'll kill Hattie just like he did his last girlfriend, to "knowing" he couldn't have saved Lianne (like Lulu in The Cuckoo's Calling! What is it with models and these L-names?). Not only does the baby magically appear, it magically fixes all Tom's Issues! So instead of focusing on Tom gradually working through his feelings of guilt and fear, the conflict in the second half of Flirting with the Camera focuses instead on whether or not Hattie's going to get another abortion. And then if she doesn't, whether or not Tom will step up to the plate and be a father to the little tyke. Settling down for the sake of a kid is a solid on his part, but it's not terribly romantic.

To be fair, I thought the fact that Hattie had an abortion in the past, and the reason[s] why she might have one again (she doesn't, naturally, but the decision was up in the air for a bit) was handled fairly. She's not a Horrible Person just because she had an abortion, and she's not exactly scarred for life either (though she is broken hearted). Still, the focus on the pregnancy in the second half of the novella slowed the story down and didn't further the romance much, either.

Since I felt like the conflict was misplaced and the conclusion was rushed, Flirting with the Camera left me a bit frustrated and unsatisfied. But overall it's an okay read, and if you like confident heroines who aren't shrinking violets or innocent ingenues, this one's worth picking up.


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