I’m only human… #Friday I’m in love # Book review of The Plus One by Sarah Archer

Dating is hard, but being dateless at your perfect sister’s wedding is even harder.

Tara Singh Carlson

Kelly is a twenty nine year old robotics engineer from San Jose, Silicon Valley. Brilliant, ambitious, perfectionist, super analytical…as well as socially awkward and embarrassingly single, Kelly is a typical middle child, craving to earn her parents’ approval by being ‘safe and responsible‘. Now Kelly’s charming younger sister is getting married and their mother (whose flair for silliness and dramatics reminded me of Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice) is keen to find Kelly a suitable date to maintain the necessary symmetry in the upcoming wedding photos. Kelly is not exactly against the idea, it’s just that her flight instinct overrides her logical circuits and she literally runs away in the opposite direction from the problem.

She even joins a dating website and comes up with a lengthy and awfully precise list of essential attributes (including wearing V-necks and love of Twinkies) only to get -Surprise, surprise!-no match.

In a moment of genius, Kelly decides to build a robot boyfriend and endow him with a charming smile, easy-going personality and crystalline blue eyes. Meet Ethan, her newest engineering success, gorgeous, thoughful, smart, attentive to her needs, quickly learning from his mistakes, and, most importantly, totally non-judgemental. Ethan is safe to talk to, go shopping with, he is your perfect companion whether you want to eat out or just stay home, watch a comedy and lounge on the sofa in old sweats. He is also universally liked, including Kelly’s own family who just can’t believe her luck. Almost too perfect to be real.

By its nature, the robot boyfriend trope is predictable. We all know it is bound to end with the human heroine meeting a slightly imperfect human who is totally going to eclipse the devoted mechanical heart out of his (its?) brief existence. True, but within this predictability there is scope for building up characters and showing thier evolution, and this is precisely what Sarah Archer does. At the heart of the novel is Kelly’s journey to understand and change herself. Her lacklustre love life which culminated  in the much fretted absence of a wedding date didn’t come out of blue. It was deeply rooted in her fear of getting too close to somebody, fear of ending up in a relationship where nobody talks about things that matter, fear of indifference and giving in. Ethan is her ultimate version of a safety net, a man programmed to love her unconditionally the way she is. Eventually, she does realise love isn’t love where there is no free will. And you have to give it to her, Kelly is willing to learn from the data life is stubbornly providing her with.

A charming debut novel and a perfect summer beach read, The Plus one is chick lit in its pure unadulterated form. Don’t expect groundbreaking reflections or serious philosophy. It is meant to be lighthearted, entertaining and optimistic in its deeply held belief that ‘You live and you learn’ and if your learning comes from mistakes…well, you’re only human.

Thank you to Edelweiss and G.P.Putnam’s sons for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • How do you feel about latest developments in the field of robotics? Do you feel companion robots are a good response to our current epidemic of loneliness?
  • Are you for unconditional love (excluding that of parents towards their children) or I-choose-you-every-single-day type?

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