A year in books: Age Sex Location

Age Sex Location is the first novel by American ex-pat Melissa Pimentel. A book about dating in London in the 2010s in a time of dating apps and how maybe experimenting with guides is probably not the best move…

You know how it is? You see a book on the shelf, it looks interesting if only because the recommendation is from an author you respect, the title sounds fun and you’re looking for something different…

So, how do you go about writing a review for a book you really don’t like without it sounding awful? I guess I’m about to find out.

It’s true, I picked up this book partly because it was stuck between two other books I was interested in and then the recommendation on the front from Marion Keyes sealed the deal. If she liked it and thought it was gripping and funny then, of course, I was going to find something in it that I liked, right?

Unfortunately, the opening paragraphs of the book were enough to set my teeth on edge. Unlike some *cough* Sally *cough* I am not averse to reading first-person novels, in fact, many chicklit novels are written this way. I also don’t mind semi-autobiographical (or autobiographical even), sometimes the best novels are those written with a personal perspective. But this book? I am not sure exactly what Melissa Pimentel was thinking when she wrote it. I wish I did.

Age Sex Location is a book unlike any I have read previously, it was sort of chicklit, but not quite. The main character, I think, was meant to be someone you could identify with. Everyone’s had a few bad dates and wondered if they were doing something wrong, so that’s easy to read and nod in agreement at. However, how many then changed their entire persona several times in order to find someone to date, after reading a series of dating guides? Apparently Lauren Cunningham, the ‘heroine’ of this book does!

Published in 2015 by Penguin Books, this is Pimentel’s first novel, semi-biographical and written like a combination of scientific experiment and personal journal. But for me, there was one MASSIVE problem…I couldn’t find anything in our lead protagonist that I liked.

I finished the book, in fact, I read it in a few hours and as I pushed my way through the multiple cringe-worthy moments I felt as though I was punishing myself for choosing a book by a new author.

There are few things I can think of that I would recommend about this book, but I also feel that I am a little older than the intended audience.

Before I checked the book out of the library I decided against reading the back of it, though after finishing it and reading a few reviews on Goodreads (have you checked mine out?) I decided to have a glance, and discovered that it was aimed more at the audience of shows like Girls, so definitely much younger than I am.

Even though I am more than likely not the target audience of Age Sex Location it didn’t mean I couldn’t find something (possibly) to recommend it, so I continued reading and kept on plodding through the narrative until I reached the end.

I guess I should explain a bit about the book before I get to the nuts and bolts of my review, so you can understand a little about how I came up with my thoughts.

When we first meet Lauren, our 28-year-old American protagonist, she’s just left her home in Portland, Maine to live in London where she has found a job working as an event planner at the Science Museum. Initially, we don’t find out much about her, apart from that somewhere someone called Dylan has something to do with her life (his role does become more clear later on) and she has a sister.

Eventually, we do find out a little more about her family and her reasons for leaving Portland, but they don’t actually place her in a shining light of nobility (at least as far as I am concerned as the reader).

She’s judgy, self-absorbed and doesn’t really come across as the nicest of people. It seems that everything that goes wrong in her dating life and everything else is not her fault, it’s down to everyone else. She makes someone breakfast after they’ve stayed the night and they do a runner…that’s their fault, not hers! She goes on a date with someone who doesn’t seem interested in her, that’s their fault (and later the fault of someone they do seem attracted to). The list of these examples is pretty much endless.

I think that the point when I really started to dislike her comes around halfway through the book. She’s trying out a new dating technique recommended in another self-help dating guide and after two failed attempts to start debate with groups of men (she ends up causing arguments, and one is about who played the cast of The A-Team – for reference it was Dirk Benedict, Mr T, George Peppard and Dwight Schultz), she finds a subject that’s interesting (shocker!). She’s at the pub with her colleague from work, a happily engaged woman called Cathryn. When she finds her next group of ‘victims’, she asks them what her friend (pointing at Cathryn) should do because her partner doesn’t understand her desire to sleep with women.

Now, most would laugh it off and say “It’s done no harm” however, Lauren starts dating one of the men from the group and meets with Cathryn and her unsuspecting (and perfectly nice, apparently) fiancé, Michael…disaster could easily ensue!

None of this paints Lauren in a good light AT ALL. In fact, she doesn’t seem to think anything of potential consequences as though nothing outside of her own self-gratification matters a single iota!

By the time she’s been on a few dates, I am absolutely baffled. I have no idea what she wants from this experiment. She says that she’s not looking for commitment, but everything she does seems to indicate something completely different. Her process seems so unclear and her end goal even more so, but maybe that’s just me?

Another bugbear I have with the book is the fact that none of the characters has a back story. Very few of them even have a name! Okay, so we know that this is all one massive science experiment to Lauren, that keeping her dates anonymous is her way of protecting them, but this is fiction, so why do their made-up names matter? I actually reached the point, towards the end, where I didn’t truly care anymore – and for me, that’s a glaring warning sign that I am reading the wrong book.

Okay, so Dylan…he’s mentioned a few times and is one of only a few characters who actually has a name, so I guess we’re meant to care about who he is. It turns out that he’s Lauren’s husband, a man she left after three years of marriage because she didn’t want to turn into a suburban housewife. We don’t actually find out who he is and what impact he had on her life (if any at all) until we’re nearly two-thirds of the way through the book. 

The sad thing is that the only reason we do discover anything about Dylan is because Lauren’s sister lets her know that he’s started dating someone and is finally moving on. It just happens that this new woman is someone that Lauren resented a great deal at High School, a popular pretty girl! I am not sure if we’re meant to feel sorry for Lauren here, as she mentions how she wasn’t popular, in fact, she was a bit of a goth outcast! Unfortunately, the way she talks about this other girl doesn’t inspire pity for the girl that Lauren once was and I truly was an outcast!

There is one moment when you start to see her as a human with feelings, and that’s when she drops everything to go home to Portland to visit her heartbroken sister (whose wife admitted to flirting with a colleague and subsequently left the marital home). However, when she gets there and discovers that her sister Meghan has managed to fix what was broken in her relationship, Lauren is the only one who doesn’t forgive and forget, acting like a spoilt, petulant child when the family is at dinner, right down to taking food she doesn’t necessarily want so the person she’s angry at can’t have it.

The initial love interest who began this whole experiment over eggs, also known as Adrian, is a bit of a twit. However, the constant mentions he gets through the book make you sure he’s the one she’ll end up with…but I am nearly at the end of the book and fear I am about to be proved wrong!

So, after realising that the experiment isn’t all that, she decides to drop it, has no particularly mind-blowing results to share and decides that not only is she not going to date for a while, but she’s also going to do all the things she’s been denying herself (which again makes me wonder why she would do such a thing)…she also says she’s “going to date myself for a while.” So, this begs the question…Is she now self-partnered?

Thank goodness that’s over…

Raye, 2020

The ending came out of nowhere. With 7 pages to go until the end of the 401-pages of the book, she apparently meets Prince Charming, someone who is skimmed over for the rest of the book, a peripheral character with barely any identity, just a few snarky remarks here and there… And all I can think of to say is “Thank goodness that’s over…” When I had hoped I would be saying “I can’t wait to read her next book.”

I wish I could give this a better star rating, but this book simply wasn’t for me. Try as I might, it just wasn’t something I could get on with. I know that there will be plenty of people who love it and can truly identify with Lauren and her many dating dilemmas. It just isn’t my cup of tea!

So, in conclusion, I would rate this as a 1.5-star book, though on Goodreads it will only be 1 as you can’t add half-stars there. So there you have it. I give Melissa Pimentel’s book Age Sex Location 1.5-stars. Take that as you will.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

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