There is something decidedly disturbing about an adult who calls her mother “Mumly”, particularly when she is dubbed “Princess” in return. But Mademoiselle Remedy O’Riley de Valdez – Catholic, fashionista and belly-dancer extraordinaire – is a very singular singleton, and though her speech patterns sometimes recall the babble of the nursery, the tenacity with which she searches for love suggests a more steely soul. Remedy’s aim in life is to find “her man-o-the-moon” (and if you find that painful, just wait until she calls Jesus the “Lamb-o-God”) on the boulevards of Paris, and to this end she has petitioned saints and ancestors alike for their celestial aid.
Though she tries to practise Adult Sex, an approach to dating advocated by the love-relations psychologist at Belle magazine (“In this day and age,” she tells herself sternly, “a woman cannot behave like the pubescent romanticist, a sitting duck stuffed with false notions of the love connection. No, she must take love as an assignment, fulfil the duties and dispense with it at term”), Remedy is an inveterate romantic. So far, so Bridget Jones, but what distinguishes Marsella’s heroine from the solipsistic sisterhood of chick lit is her absolute lack of neurosis, social anxiety or self-doubt.
This is at once refreshing and perplexing, all the more so because Remedy, like Marsella herself, hails not from the 16th arrondissement but from America. None the less, she practically glistens with joie de vivre, trumping even the French in her ability to find pleasure in the quotidian. This somewhat unconvincing transfer of national stereotypes extends to the table, where Remedy is regularly to be found tucking in to tartiflette (“that creamy Savoy concoction of potatoes, creme fraiche, lardons, and reblochon cheese that’s all the rage in Paris these days”) while her co-workers at A La Mode Online skip repast in favour of the gym.
Such insouciance also affects Remedy’s relationship with the Catholic church. The narrative is structured as a series of supplications to the saint du jour, begging for divine intervention in matters of the heart (“Well, the Concise is certainly imprecise when it comes to your bio,” reads a typical plea. “Was your name Ruold or Rombaut? Since we really do not know, I suggest we call you Rambo. This will make it easier for modern believers to remember you”). But it doesn’t take long for Remedy to tire of this passive approach. After carting a sea-green basin back to her apartment, she builds her own font, carrying out weddings and even raising a cat from the dead with the spiritual authority that her self-confidence bestows upon her.
No matter how low one’s tolerance of whimsy, it is hard not to warm to a character so entirely determined to embrace life. Remedy’s bold refusal to be cowed by her single status or lowly job is heartening, which is fortunate, because there is very little in the way of narrative tension to drag the reader forwards – the eventual recipient of her affections being evident from the inside front cover. But Marsella’s sly wit and spirit of play, not to mention the very oddness of her heroine, ensures this debut novel cannot easily be dismissed, despite possessing all the froufrou foolishness that any self-respecting romance requires, right down to a midnight ball in Marie Antoinette’s own chambers. In fact, it’s almost a shame when love comes at last, because rarely has the state of single womanhood, in a book so evidently written for girls, been made to look like such a blast.