Despite having owned The Book of Tomorrow for… oh, a long time, I have to admit that I’d never read any Cecelia Ahern before One Hundred Names landed on my doorstep. I’d heard that they were usually ‘chick-lit’ with a quirky, original twist, but obviously that’s not much to go on. Nevertheless, I dubiously picked up her latest work… and was thoroughly impressed. I’ll definitely be reading my way through her back catalogue before long.
Plot summary: Journalist Kitty Logan’s career has been destroyed by scandal, and she now faces losing the woman who guided her and taught her everything she knew. At her mentor’s bedside, Kitty asks her – what is the one story she always wanted to write?
The answer lies in a file buried in Constance’s office: a list of one hundred names. There is no synopsis, no explanation, nothing else to explain what the story is or who these people are. The list is simply a mystery.But before Kitty can talk to her friend, it is too late.
With everything to prove, Kitty is assigned the most important task of her life – to write the story her mentor never had the opportunity to. Kitty has to not only track down and meet the people on the list, but find out what connects them. And, in the process of hearing ordinary people’s stories, she uncovers Constance’s – and starts to understand her own…
One Hundred Names looks and feels like a classic chick-lit… but it’s not. There is a romantic sub-plot (which I’ll talk about later), but it remains just that – a sub-plot. It’s not what the book is about and it works all the better for it. The emphasis is definitely on the list of names Kitty has uncovered and the people she meets along the way. It’s clever, unique and I’ve never read anything like it.
It did take me a few chapters to get into it properly, but once I had there was no looking back. Once the self-pitying opening was finished, the plot itself really hooked me in. The stories of the people Kitty meets are captivating. I think that’s the appeal of the book in a nutshell – everybody feels so real. I’d be surprised if they weren’t based on real people; they’re just that complete. They have flaws and things don’t always work out perfectly, yet their backgrounds and stories are interesting enough to capture my attention completely.
I liked Birdie best – an 85 year old lady in a nursing home. A strange person for me to relate to, but hey ho. Her story took me on an emotional rollercoaster and I found that she was by far the character I rooted for the most. It’s clever how Cecelia Ahern has woven a story, something by definition you read because it’s interesting, around people who are distinctly uninteresting.It just… works, somehow.
The concept and the characters are wonderful, but I do think it could have used a little more subtlety. It feels like she could have tried a little bit harder to make certain events and conversations less stilted, as sometimes it feels like there are flashing arrows with the words ‘PLOT POINT’ surrounding certain paragraphs. Yes, we understand that people don’t like Kitty very much – your characters don’t need to break-off in the middle of a normal conversation to randomly start shouting.
I had also expected the romance to be a little better. As mentioned above, it isn’t the focus of the book at all, but the romantic aspects still don’t seem to have a clear direction. There are four potential suitors. Four! This wouldn’t be a problem in itself, except Kitty doesn’t actually seem to like any of them. It’s kind of strange when she eventually chooses one of them – there were no hints throughout the huge majority of the book, but then you’re suddenly hit with a ton of very unsubtle sledgehammer tip-offs.
However, I should reiterate that I loved One Hundred Names despite its flaws. The unique concept and wonderful characters more than make up for a few bumps in the writing. It’s not perfect, but I really, deeply cared about this novel and that means more to me than any immaculate literary composition.