“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs,” Paul McCartney sang in 1976, with his tongue in his cheek: because of course our need to love and be loved in return is at the very centre of our being. “Once in a Lifetime” is a beautifully written, gentle and heart-warming, modern evocation of the Cinderella story, told by Jayne Nichols with her tongue in her cheek, smiling gently in Austin-esque fashion while paying homage to our basic human need for life to be like this for deserving people.
Reading it was like soaking in a warm bath of certainty that everything was going to work out for humble, Texan waitress, Samantha St John and handsome, troubled Irish race-horse owner Kieran McDade, just as it did for humble, faithful Jane Eyre and her troubled Mr Rochester, and for worthy, highly intelligent, middle-class Elizabeth Bennett and the troubled upper-class Mr Darcy. Jane Austen described Lizzy as “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” Two hundred years ago, her tongue was in her cheek too, for exactly the same reason.
Very sensibly, Jayne Nichols has not plastered what sometimes appears to be an obligatory, rippling, naked, male torso on the front cover of this relatively short, quintessentially romantic tale, and for that I am profoundly grateful. “Chick-Lit” it is not. It leans far more towards Jane Austin in tone and feel, and – dare I say it – in the quality of the writing. I have no hesitation in prescribing this book to anyone – male or female – who would benefit from a short but soothing, satisfying sojourn into a world where two lovely young people get to have an adventure and fall deeply in love, and live happily ever after.