ARC Review: Bookworm by Robin Yeatman

Today’s review is about BOOKWORM by Robin Yeatman, a debut dark comedy about imagination and the alleged dangers of reading. Don’t let the seemingly jovial cover art fool you, though. BOOKWORM just might validate that women are free thinkers and reading does give them ideas.

Author: Robin Yeatman
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publish Date: February 14, 2023
Print Length: 288

BOOKWORM by Robin Yeatman will be published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Unionized employees at HarperCollins Publishers have been striking for approximately two months for fair wages. For more information, visit their Twitter page. If you’re interested in this debut novel, consider purchasing it from the HarperCollins Union page. A portion of the purchases made on this page will be donated to their union hardship fund.

Official Synopsis

A wickedly funny debut novel–a black comedy with a generous heart that explores the power of imagination and reading–about a woman who tries to use fiction to find her way to happiness.

Victoria is unhappily married to an ambitious and controlling lawyer consumed with his career. Burdened with overbearing in-laws, a boring dead-end job she can’t seem to leave, and a best friend who doesn’t seem to understand her, Victoria finds solace from the daily grind in her beloved books and the stories she makes up in her head. One day, in a favorite café, she notices an attractive man reading the same talked-about bestselling novel that she is reading. A woman yearning for her own happy ending, Victoria is sure it’s fate. The handsome book lover must be her soul mate.

There’s only one small problem. Victoria is already married. Frustrated, and desperate to change her life, Victoria retreats to the dark places in her mind and thinks back to all the stories she’s ever read in hopes of finding a solution. She begins to fantasize about nocturnal trysts with café man, and imaginative ways (poisoned pickles were an inspired choice in Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres) of getting rid of the dread husband.

It’s all just harmless fantasy born of Victoria’s fevered imagination and her books–until, one night, fiction and reality blur and suddenly it seems Victoria is about to get everything she’s wished for . . . .

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

BOOKWORM by Robin Yeatman is essentially about a woman, Victoria, who is in a loveless marriage and uses reading and her imagination as a coping mechanism. Self-described as fairly directionless and nonconforming to her parents’ ideals, Victoria finds she is restless and unsettled in her marriage of convenience. Her husband Eric is everything her parents want her to be: driven, a lawyer, rich, and dedicated. But Eric is also everything Victoria finds she dislikes: routine, bland, unadventurous, and unimaginative. When she’s not at her part-time job, Victoria plays 1950s housewife for Eric. She cooks his meals and even follows his routine to ensure he remains calm and unruffled.

Victoria has a routine of her own to allow herself a little variety in her daily life. She often stops at her favorite cafe to read a book and make up stories in her head about people she observes. One day she spies in the cafe a man she becomes convinced is her soulmate. This sudden invigoration into her routine leads to a series of imaginative ways Eric might disappear from her life. And none of them are the divorce route. She begins to act slightly differently around Eric and their parents. This leads Eric to enforce a two week book-reading ban because he fears the dark books she reads are affecting her mood. (Oh no he did not just suggest that!)

Although the cover art suggests BOOKWORM is a lighter read, it’s actually a dark comedy. None of the characters are all that likeable, and the author writes them as such on purpose. It’s certainly easier to feel more sympathetic toward Victoria than Eric. But in the end Victoria isn’t all that better than the book characters she complains about who do nothing to help themselves. It reminded me a bit of NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney, but more entertaining. So I couldn’t be as upset that there wasn’t the amount of character growth I prefer to see. What I found myself raising my eyebrow at more were the several references to other cultures/cultural items, which I didn’t think were necessary to make the point.

It’s also a small commentary on the outdated notion that women who read are dangerous and prone to hysteria. Hence the short reading ban Eric imposes on Victoria. Instead it just gives Victoria more time to imagine Eric’s untimely demise, using literature as inspiration. I wasn’t knowledgeable of most of the books/authors Victoria mentions. So whatever importance they were supposed to impart on her narrative was lost on me.

Whether the author intended it, BOOKWORM is also a commentary of the pressure of ideals parents and friends foist on loved ones. Victoria’s parents and her sole friend constantly tell her how lucky she is to have her life. But what’s one person’s treasure might be another’s mental prison. In the end, everyone’s actions are despicable on some level. Be careful what you wish as it might be more than you could imagine.

While BOOKWORM is a quick read, it is not a light romantic comedy. Instead, it’s for those looking for a comedy noir, and bonus points if you know Victoria’s literature references.

Rating: 3.75
Content warnings: blood, sexual content
Reading format: Kindle e-book

4 thoughts on “ARC Review: Bookworm by Robin Yeatman

  1. I came across this book the other day when I was writing up my February new releases article and it definitely piqued my interest. Reading your review certainly has me even more interested in picking it up. It sounds absolutely fascinating and very unique!

    1. I’ll be honest, I was expecting it to be a bit of a lighter read, but I had fun with it. The writing is very approachable, so I think you’ll be able to fly through it.

  2. Sounds like an interesting read! I think a lot of the literary references would fly over my head, but I like the idea that it looks at the notion of reading being dangerous.

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