Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is available on August 23rd.
Well… if you don’t like You’ve Got Mail, I can tell you right now… you’re not going to like this book.
It’s been a while since I’ve had such muddled feelings about a book. On the one hand, it’s absolutely adorable and has a satisfyingly upbeat ending (which I think everyone could use lately), but on the other hand, there are things that niggled at me. Like, really niggled. On the other other hand (I guess I’m just discussing X-men mutants now or something), several of the things I didn’t like are things that most people love. So, either way I think The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy will be well liked by many readers.
The general gist behind the book is that two lonely people start writing anonymous letters back and forth. As they get to know each other through these letters, they start to form a friendship, with hints of something more. Then one of the two discovers the identity of his pen pal and things shift because he really doesn’t like her in real life. At least, he never has in the past. He starts to see her in a new light, but the question then becomes whether their in-writing relationship can survive real life.
If you think that sounds similar to the movie plot for You’ve Got Mail, you’d be 100% right. I’ve read that the similarities are intentional, but I do wish that they weren’t quite so similar. The author had the chance to make it her own, which she did eventually, but the first 200 pages were a little too close to the movie for me. It just felt like a missed opportunity.
After the 200-page mark, the book became something new and different, which I enjoyed quite a bit. There were drudges (zombies), backstabbing funeral home directors, and a squeamish brother who would much rather bake cookies than cremate bodies. It was a delightful tale with a satisfying happily-ever-after. The writing was breezy and moved quickly.
I’m torn on how I feel about the characters, though. I loved Hart’s coworker, Duckers. He was open and honest, and not at all cowed by Hart’s prickly demeanor. I also really loved Zeddie, Mercy’s brother. In fact, I loved the entire dynamic of Mercy’s family. They were loud and nosy, brimming with love and a wee bit of judgement. Their conversations were hilarious.
The two main characters, though- Hart and Mercy- just didn’t quite do it for me. They felt a little bit underdeveloped (possibly because they were filling the role of characters created in You’ve Got Mail? I kept picturing Meg Ryan as the female lead despite Mercy being described completely differently). I just wanted a little more from them. They were fine as far as they went. I’m sure Mercy’s sunny demeanor will appeal to a lot of readers. I’m equally sure that cranky Hart will also appeal to readers. I think this is one of those, “it’s not you, it’s me situations”.
To wrap up, though: the world was a blast. I loved the idea behind the drudges, the “secret” to them, and the way they affected so much of how day-to-day life was led. I thought the background characters were fabulous, and I liked the snappy pace of the book. However, the first half of the book wasn’t for me, I didn’t love the main characters, and I was rather surprised by the sex scenes. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect them in a book with a love-plot, but I didn’t. I skipped past them without issue (yes, I’m a prude who doesn’t like sex scenes), but they were definitely unexpected.
I am certain that the niggles I had with the book are all major selling points for many, many readers, and the upbeat ending was very much appreciated. Pick up The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy for a sweet, feel-good tale (that also includes zombies).