Ariel Morton has hit rock bottom. Or, is it just her attitude that has? Well, she’s recently lost her dream job, lost her driver license, gotten dumped by the love of her life (who was also her best friend). She lives in a hovel, has no friends, feels outcast from her own family, and is in credit card debt that seems impossible to get out of. She’s made a few mistakes and has told a few lies, but she finds herself trapped in a prison inordinate to the mildness of her foibles. Ah yes, the quarter-life crisis. This is where we enter the story.
On the first page of the book we’re introduced to the mysterious Muse Agency, a private—very private—consulting company reported to have worked miracles in Ariel’s hometown of Singapore. Details are transferred strictly via whisper network and shrouded in something close to legend. This seems to be the plot in store for us: The Muse Agency is going to change Ariel’s life. That’s far from the case.
In fact, her life does swing a hairpin turn by the end of the book, but only because she finally learns to steer. Very little actually changes for Ariel on the outside. Sure, there is a new love interest (expect something closer to Emma than Fifty Shades of Grey), and that credit card debt is taken care of in a surprising twist. But mostly, the agency forces Ariel to scrutinize her life and make the uncomfortable changes she’s been avoiding for years. We suspect Ariel’s changes must happen from within pretty early on in the novel, but it’s still fun to watch it all play out. Her dry sense of humor and resistance to conformity makes for an entertaining soul journey.
The most interesting part of the book, and one that I thought unique, is Fia Essen’s way of bringing the world of the expat into focus. This is a microcosm of which I had no real understanding and it’s a fascinating life. Essen’s own experiences make Ariel’s life as an expat seem realistic and authentic. I call Singapore her “hometown” in the beginning of this review, but that idea isn’t something she really understands. Born in one country, with heritage in two others, Ariel has globe-trotted for most of her life; first, because of her parents’ careers, but later because constant travel was what she knew. A peek into this lifestyle makes Ariel worth the read on it’s own.
If you’re looking for hardcore realism in which main characters are killed off, x-rated scenes abound, and everyone is generally unhappy, this is not your book. If you believe in that light at the end of the tunnel, and maybe hope there is one at the end of your own road, you’ll enjoy Ariel.