Agnes has most things in life: a job at a fancy restaurant, a boyfriend who loves her, and a best friend whom she knows inside out. Or does she? All of a sudden things begin to crumble, one by one, and soon nothing is as it was. Her boyfriend leaves her for a big busted singer, and she is fired by the sexist and abusive owner of the restaurant where she works. She gambles everything she has on the success of a newly opened restaurant, but the road to the glowing review which will open the door to fame and fortune has, to say the least, unexpected twists and turns.
In Yesterday’s News Kajsa Ingemarsson’s comic talent comes into its own. The book is one of the greatest bestsellers of all time in Sweden with more than 800,000 copies sold. Juicy and satisfying, Yesterday’s News is a story about daring and winning and about faith in yourself, a feelgood novel sure to please anyone looking for the antithesis to Stieg Larsson.
This popped up in my inbox for B&N’s “Daily Find” which meant I got it for several dollars less, and I am so vulnerable to affordable books. Described as “the antithesis to Stieg Larsson”, whose series I cannot bring myself to read after everything I’ve heard, this description won me over.
For back cover copy, it’s remarkably faithful to the book. It doesn’t overstate the drama or pull the other tricks often used to hook readers. This paragraph for the default description, in fact, names the part that won me over:
The woman in trouble is Agnes. In Yesterday’s News she will rebound from personal tragedy and find courage in the face of the unknown. In the end she stands there as the hero of her own life.
Agnes is the steady, reliable girl, without any overwhelming ambition to be somewhere else, though she had enough to get out of her isolated small town. She’s a romantic, and in that stage of life that society arbitrarily names adulthood but is so hard to define and realize once you’re actually in it. Make sure you’re a reasonably productive member of society, and mark time until you know you’re “there”: like buying a house or winning the Nobel Prize.
But she’s just lost her job and her boyfriend dumped her, and she’s lost.
Actually, that all happens pretty quickly and the rest is Agnes defining her life thereafter. Where do we find direction? and of course, what’s really important?
So if you’ve been reading..well a great many books with romantic plot tumors…and are sick of characters like Bella Swan not recognize they have a jerk for a boyfriend—I think you’ll like Agnes. She’s not really very Bella-like, she does have a backbone, but she also has little self-confidence and doesn’t recognize her own worth. What a difference that makes, when she starts to take initiative in her own life!
I remember saying I fell in love with Agnes by first chapter. She’s basically being groped by her boss, at work, in the wine cellar, and she’s just so taken aback. A “what is happening?” kind of response, which made sense to me. She fends him off, but the victory isn’t unsullied: after all, she’s lost her job, and it’s not so easy to find a new one.
All the side characters are great: her relationships with her parents and sister are easy and natural to read, but they aren’t necessarily easy for Agnes. She doesn’t always understand them, and finds they can take her by surprise.
There’s the moment, about two thirds of the novel that made me cry, for several chapters. I won’t say more, but Ingemarsson writes emotion well; the reader can relate to Agnes.
My favorite part of the book was Agnes learning she didn’t have a handle on everything and didn’t have to. She’s emotionally dependent, at the start, pretty much on everyone around her. Once Tobias leaves her, she leans on her friend. When she finally gets a job, she starts taking control, but still treats it much like a crutch. Eventually, she realizes starts standing on her own, after finally hearing a few hard truths that she never really listened to before.
When I first added the book, the top shelf was “romance” and the entire 287 pages I was looking for it. Now, she does have a romantic arc, but this is not a romance book at all. In fact, even when the love interest showed up (which was fairly obvious to all but Agnes) it still barely counted as part of her character growth: there was no romance until she actually understood what she wanted in a relationship. I squeed.
Yes, I saw most of the plot-points coming, the twist was telegraphed fairly early on. But I’d still say a lot of that’s on Agnes, on her prejudices and assumptions.
Yesterday’s News stands best as a character study than even the ‘chick lit’ genre covers, at least in the US market I know. Calling it a story about “growing up” sounds ridiculous, when Agnes starts already a functioning adult. She’s just unsure of herself, and her boundaries—she hasn’t pushed herself for a time.
I gave Yesterday’s News four stars because I loved it, but it didn’t blow me away. Now I feel like the Grinch.
Don’t be a Grinch: read Yesterday’s News!