My hairdresser, who is a laugh a minute, once told me that she’d made a bet with her boyfriend that on eBay you could get ‘money for old rope’, as the saying goes. A few clicks later, she discovered that you can: plenty of old rope was listed for sale. (Whether the vendors were being ironic was unclear.)
Estelle Wilkinson’s new memoir, It Started With A Click tells the tale of another unexpected item that may be found on eBay: romance.
Consisting almost exclusively of emails and instant messages, this true story opens with the eBay transaction that introduced Catherine to Damian: the sale of a pair of rugby tickets. From this unusual beginning, the book tracks the development of their courtship. You might think that the rigid structure of online messaging would set the wrong tone for a romance, but after the first few pages, you forget that this is an unconventional format for a story. After all, weren’t the very first novels in the form of exchanges of letters? (It’s called an epistolary novel, by the way.) I confess that I still have, unread on my shelf, the groundbreaking four-volume eighteenth century novel Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, bought for my undergraduate reading list. In contrast, I flew through the pages of Estelle Wilkinson’s book!
How They Just Clicked
It would be a hard-hearted reader who did not want Catherine and Damian to meet in real life and make a go of their relationship. They are likable, intelligent, articulate characters, young and impetuous enough to start a relationship online, but old enough to stay safe in a potentially risky situation of the kind that we all warn our children about. Even so, the element of risk adds an extra frisson of excitement, but there’s more to it than online flirting (though to be fair, there’s a lot of that too!) Mercifully, the couple are also grown-up enough not to have peppered their messages with texting shorthand (LOLs, PMSLs, etc) that would have irritated this reader.
The Power of the Format
Actually, the story gains a great deal from its format. Translated into an ordinary narrative, it would seem a less exceptional romance. It feels illicit to be reading someone else’s emails, especially in the wake of the recent British press phone-tapping scandal, even though we had the author’s permission – perhaps another reason I raced through the book: in case I got caught!
It takes courage to publish one’s own love letters, for that’s essentially what this book eventually amounts to,albeit in electronic form. I think the author’s been wise to adopt a pseudonym, for reasons which the reader will understand by the end of the book. Great literature it ain’t, but nor does it try to be. But it is a bit of fun that I’m sure will be enjoyed by plenty of women (and men) – not one of whom will ever log on to eBay again without wondering who they might meet there.
For more about how the book came to be published, visit Estelle Wilkinson’s blog.