As reality television has evolved over the years, a typical female star has come to possess some (or all) of the following: bleach blond hair, sun-kissed skin, a lithe but sexy figure, a cosmetically enhanced visage, a narcissistic personality, a flair for drama and a love of fame. Pleasantly plump bookworm Tessa Riordan is far from such a woman. But when a friend encourages her to participate in a reality television program, she is reluctant, fearful – and intrigued. The lure of the spotlight, as so many men and women have fallen prey to, draws the cheerful gal in, and she manages to clumsily charm her way into the hearts of the viewers. And into the arms of the man cast as her husband.
Plot Overview: Love, Lust and Reality T.V.
At 39 years old, Tessa is a widow, a size 18 and a struggling genealogist. Not the ideal life. So when opportunity arrives in the form of a reality show à la PBS’s “1900s House,” Tessa decides she has nothing to lose. Except maybe a few pounds.
The show, which chronicles life in the late 1800s, is made up of actors and wannabes; Tessa’s role is the duchess of the household, a pampered and relatively easy position. She is tied (and tortured) into a corset every day but spends most of her time wandering the English countryside and awkwardly dining with her conservative “neighbors” (read: inexperienced but eager actors). The real plus, however, is Max Edgerton, the British architect playing the Duke.
Max is reticent and standoffish, but Tessa’s good-natured ways begin to smooth his rough edges. The two embark on a steamy affair behind the camera, and Tessa is only too happy to cater to Max’s needs. Complicating matters, however, are the other members of the production. Max’s daughter and in-laws are part of the cast – and deeply disapproving of Tessa – and the actors assigned to servant positions are about to rebel. What should have been a clandestine affair on a staid television show is instead a messy coupling on a hilarious, drama-filled disaster.
Criticisms and Compliments
Katie MacAlister is a hit-or-miss writer. Some of her novels (the Aisling Grey series) are excellent. The protagonists are well-rounded, the romances are hot, the dialogue is witty. But no writer is perfect, and MacAlister has missed the mark before (Men in Kilts, Improper English); her plotting can be superficial, and the female protagonists, rather than appearing clever and charismatic, are overly emotional and just plain not likeable. That said, The Corset Diaries is not only a hit, but also one of her best. Tessa is vulnerable and kind, Max is flawed but loving, and the romance has enough depth to allow the lovebirds to grow. Plus, the plot is laugh-out-loud funny.
In her more successful writing, like The Corset Diaries, MacAlister tends to channel Jennifer Weiner and Sophie Kinsella. Like many of Weiner’s protagonists, Tessa Riordan is overweight and aware of it, but she manages to find a man who loves for who she is, regardless of her size. And like Kinsella’s heroines, Tessa acts with good intentions, but those well-meaning actions constantly land in her cringe-worthy but entertaining situations. The plump protagonist plus the situational comedy makes for a great read. It’s a formula that works.
Finally, MacAlister has the ability to tap into fantasies in which to set her characters and plot: The Corset Diaries explores not only romance on a television show, but also during a seemingly idyllic historical period; A Hard Day’s Knight, another great read, looks at love and lust at a jousting tournament at the Renaissance fair; and the Dark Ones series focuses on seductive vampires and powerful magic. Her collection (of hits) is funny and sexy fare that’s fluffy enough to be light reading.
- MacAlister, Katie. The Corset Diaries. Onyx (Reprint edition), 2004 ISBN 9780451411129