Love in Row 27 by Eithne Shortall

Published by Corvus

In the age of checking in online and sailing through the departures gate it takes a bit of creative artistry to wrangle a story line that allows a member of airline check-in staff to assign seats to its customer, rather than letting an algorithm do the job (it sure wouldn’t happen on Ryanair!). Author Eithne Shortall gets around this pesky case of modernity by inventing an online check-in embargo across the world, a plot device that isn’t all that implausible given current terrorism fears, and so Cora, our plucky heroine, is inspired to assign row 27 as the blind date seats. Her personal life is in turmoil and her own love life fairly recently in tatters, so this allows her to flex her romance muscle while remaining ‘off men’ for the time being.

Cora ropes in a cohort of co-workers to help her in her quest, the most enthusiastic being Nancy, a Liverpudlian whose only dream has ever been to be a flight attendant. Her check-in co-worker is Joan, a member of the old guard and set in her ways. Charlie is part of the ground crew with a good heart and a soft spot for Cora; will he be the one to save her from sad singledom?

Well, no. The chemistry between the two is tepid at best, and it’s never a believable concept that the two will end up together. Charlie appears to exist to let the reader know that Cora is desirable, and his padded out story revolves around coaching another co-worker with his weight-loss battle, which is to be documented on a TV show not unlike Love Operation Transformation. Like most of the other supporting stories this one peters out like the sad flame of a birthday cake candle, and you’re left to wonder if it was only included to increase the overall word count. While Cora’s mother and her sad descent into dementia is a well realised account of a family tragedy and its effects on not only the sufferer but her daughter that contributes to the resolution of the story as a whole, Cora’s sister and particularly brother are wholly unnecessary characters. Likewise George, a bitchy flight attendant who is given ample space to vent his grievances and bemoan his topsy-turvey love life, whose individual story line comes to an unsatisfying, anti-climactic ending.

More successful are some of the matchmaking storylines. One customer pops up from time to time, aware of Cora’s project and eager to find love. Her various matches are generally unsuitable but humorous, and out of all the characters, including the ultimately self-centered Cora, you will find yourself rooting for her. Possibly the most enjoyable, and astutely written parts of the story are the conversations between the matches, and Shortall does a good job of creating well-rounded characters in the space of a chapter or two.

Any self-respecting romantic novel has a love interest who at first glance is written off by the protagonist as an unsuitable match for her, being ruggedly handsome but too arrogant and infuriating for her tastes. Aiden, a handsome Irish doctor who apparently holds a torch for his ex-girlfriend is the Mr. Darcy to Cora’s Lizzie Bennet, and although the weakling personality underneath his projected bravado is enough to make Cora re-think who he should be matched with (*cough* her *cough*) a romantic hero for the ages he isn’t.

Love in Row 27 is, in its essence, your most typical of rom coms which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a bad thing. There’s something to be said for simple, formulaic escapism and it’s actually quite nice to come across an unashamed romantic novel with love above all else at its heart. While it’s always fairly easy to work out what’s going to happen at the end, not to mention at various points in the middle, it’s the little dalliances and double crossings that keep you turning the pages.

First published in The Tuam Herald on 2nd August, 2017

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