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Learning Curves: A Novel of Sex, Suits, and Business Affairs    by Gemma Townley Amazon.com order for
Learning Curves
by Gemma Townley
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)
Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Rashmi Srinivas

Having broken up with her eco-warrior boyfriend Gavin, Londoner Jennifer Bell stands bored and restless at the crossroads of life, ripe for her mother's schemes. Harriet is jealous of the success her ex-husband (Jen's father George Bell) is having with his commercially-inclined consulting firm, while her own much-touted eco-concious firm is going under. Harriet hatches a scheme to get her own back. She easily manipulates a na´ve Jen into doing her MBA at George's firm, while secretly working to find evidence that will implicate George in the shoddy construction work that has a post tsunami-ravaged Indonesia in an uproar.

Certain she'll die of boredom in the capitalistic environs of Bell Consulting, Jen is pleasantly surprised to discover in herself an aptitude for MBA work. As if that weren't distracting enough, her efforts at corporate espionage are hampered by the presence of sexy lecturer Daniel Peterson. Stuck in management, Daniel misses hands-on work in his beloved bookstores and feels invigorated by Jen's fresh perspective, passion and drive. Jen's ex chooses this exact moment to come back, even as Jen's father discovers her spying on him. Will Jen lose her father all over again, or will Daniel be the one to break her heart this time?

Interesting, engaging but overall predictable, this third Gemma Townley novel impresses most when it touches on the issue of moral and corporate responsibility, of increasing concern in today's world. Townley cleverly manages to present the necessary but tedious facts and figures in a light-hearted manner, thus narrowly avoiding what could easily have been construed as a business crash-course within the pages of a chick-lit story. This is especially evident when Jen's class chooses a condom company as a model to evaluate. The resultant puns and quips relieve the tedium of long-winded lectures.

Protagonist Jennifer Bell could have been enchanting and inspiring, but instead comes across as immature and vacillating. However by the end of the novel, she's all grown up in a pleasing transformation. Daniel comes into the picture only between Jen's bouts of spying and MBA work. Readers are kept in suspense about the motivations and affiliations of other major players and this keeps them turning the pages. Light in nature and substance, this novel seems well suited as a breezy summer read.

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