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If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane — book review


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“The trouble with liars, Laurie had decided from much research in the professional field, is they always thought everyone else was less smart than them.”

If I Never Met You is the fourth novel I’ve read by Mhairi McFarlane and I’m happy to say that it is my favourite book of hers. McFarlane just keeps getting better and better, and this time round she gives a new spin to the tired ‘fake-dating’ trope (which prior to this book I considered to be one of my least favourite romcom tropes).

“This Greek God was prepared to anoint her his Phony Goddess? It did feel like the most longed-for boy in school asking you to prom.”

Once again McFarlane writing combines laugh-out-loud moments with an insightful narrative that taps into deep-seated issues. Blending humour and realism McFarlane’s story is as witty as it is topical.
Our protagonist, and narrator, is Laurie, a thirty-six year old lawyer. Her world collapses when her partner of eighteen years leaves her. Having spent half of her life with Dan, and not knowing why he no longer wants to be with her, Laurie is hurt and confused. Worst still, Dan works at the same firm as Laurie so she is forced to keep up a happy front at work.
Laurie has barely had time to process Dan’s departure when, within weeks of their break up, he announces that he
1) has a new girlfriend (who happens to work at a rival firm)
2) is a father-to-be as said girlfriend is now pregnant.

Laurie soon finds that both her social and work life are affected by her new single status. As a woman in her late thirties she is subject to unwarranted comments regarding her future (such as ‘isn’t she too old now to find a new partner or start a family?’)
A rightfully angry Laurie makes a deal with her firm’s local Casanova, Jamie Carter, in order to put a stop to the fake-pity and gossip that her coworkers and acquaintances are showering over her. And maybe also to get back at Dan.

“If you wanted plumbing done, you hired a plumber. If you wanted your roof fixed you hired a roofer. If you wanted everyone to erroneously believe you were at it like knives, you recruited Jamie Carter.”

As they spend more and more time together, in order to make their fauxmance believable, Laurie and Jamie find themselves forming a bond of sorts. Although Laurie realises they are as different as chalk and cheese, she is surprised to discover that Jamie is far from the superficial all-looks-not-much-else guy he’d pegged him to be.

With dialogues that are simultaneously funny and clever If I Never Met You is hard to put down.
I loved Laurie. After her breakup with Dan she begins an introspective journey as she is forced to find herself in a reality that feels alien. She also experiences first-hand the double-standards of being a single woman rather than a single man. Colleagues and friends who prior to her breakup seemed relatively affable reveal their true colours.
Thankfully her best friend and Jamie provide the narrative with much needed positivity. They are both nuanced characters, with fears and desires of their own, and their relationship to Laurie present us with many tender scenes.
There is a bit of banter, which was a delight to read, and a few disagreements but for the most part Laurie and Jamie’s budding maybe-not-so-fake-romance had me smiling like an idiot.

Laurie’s trials and tribulations are both endearing and entertaining. There are some heart-breaking moments nestled in this otherwise light-hearted narrative. Laurie realises that sometimes it is better to choose carefully who you let into your life, and that perhaps some people aren’t worth forgiving.
From the humour to the romance, this novel simply stole my heart. I would call this type of book escapist fiction as it is sure to satisfy readers’ romcom requirements but to do feels like doing it a disservice. It isn’t all fun and games, and McFarlane doesn’t shy away from portraying the way in which rumours, gossips, and false impression affected both women and men. Laurie in particular goes through quite a few hardships and I felt immensely proud of her character growth.
Jamie too was surprisingly vulnerable, and I appreciated the way they supported each other.

“She’d never been called a survivor. She turned the word over her in mind: she liked how it sounded, applied to her. It wasn’t victimhood and it wasn’t self-aggrandising, it was about coping. And she had definitely done that.”

I thoroughly recommend this novel to fans of contemporary fiction and I’m really looking forward to reading this again.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

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DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME: BOOK REVIEW

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

★★★★✰ 3.5 stars

 

And there it is: ‘that one, she’s crazy,’ the last refuge of the arsehole with any woman who calls him to account.

Don’t You Forget About Me is a rather refreshing ‘chick-lit’ novel. While it does use some well-treaded tropes (eg. ‘second-chance romance’) it avoids being predictable.

Perhaps my problem is, I keep confusing the difference between making jokes, and being the joke.

The story isn’t solely centred on the romance between Georgina and Lucas, and in fact, I would go as far as to say that the romance is on the back-burner, which allows Georgina to have some great character development.
Georgina’s long list of terrible jobs is really relatable. Between the grotty food, the fastidious customers, and inappropriate co-workers, Georgina isn’t exactly working her dream job. Since dropping out of uni she has felt somewhat directionless. While Georgina doesn’t want to disappoint those who love her, mainly her mother and sister, she resists the idea of living a life that does not appeal to her. She knows she wants to ‘do something’ that allows her to write but making ends meet keeps her far too occupied.
After a particularly terrible night – which see her unfairly fired and after catching her boyfriend red-handed, single – things seem to have reached an all time low. Thankfully her brother-in-law knows that the owner of a newly opened pub is looking for people, which is how Georgina ends up meeting Lucas again.
Through her new job Georgina will also have the opportunity to participate in a contest called ‘Share your shame’, and she ends up writing about some of the most ‘shameful’ things that have happened to her, but she also shares them with a crowded pub. Revisiting some of these gives her some much needed insight into her own life.
McFarlane is great at portraying characters who are rather ‘messy’. Georgina is not the only character who needs to alter her behaviour. By seeing her with her family and her friends we understand why she acts in the way she does, and I really admired her for recognising both her own faults and the faults of others.

If you went round saying the stuff parents say to their adult kids, you’d be pegged as a sociopath. Like, just because they had unprotected sex thirty years ago, it doesn’t give them the right.

The story has plenty of laugh out loud moments but maybe there are a little too many references to popular culture (I find it hard to think of readers who would know the obscure actors mentioned by Georgina and her friends). Two of my other small ‘grievances‘ concern Lucas. Don’t get me wrong, he is lovely, but 1) he didn’t sound very Irish. I’m only 1/4 Irish so I am definitely not an expert but he phrased things in the same way as the other British characters. 2) he was too good to be true. Georgina was a lot more nuanced than he was. He seemed to say very unlikely things (eg. “Sorry, I’m mansplaining you to yourself.”).
Overall, I would read this for Georgina rather than ‘the romance’. There are so many unjust and wrong things that happen to her and it makes a nice to see those things being called out and addressed. Hell yeah, she can be angry if she wants to.

There are always those worse off than you. Your problems are not invalid as a result, or needing to be measured against an internationally recognised pain scale before we decide if your condition is severe enough to treat.

While it might be far from perfect, Don’t You Forget About Me is still an incredibly entertaining and empowering novel.

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Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

“Oh God. I’d forgotten about that. The girl’s homework task was all about wishes. Anna’s began My mummy’s wish is: and I carefully spelled out ‘word peace’ for her, rather than ‘to know what the fuck is up with her husband’.”

An entertaining novel that can be easily read in one sitting. A simple yet witty prose featuring a cast of lovable and quirky characters, and an endearing protagonist. Sylvie and Dan seem to be in complete sync. However, when they are told that their long life expectancy promises another good 68 years, troubles soon arise. Sylvie’s idea to ‘spice things up’ backfires, mishaps abound, as well as plenty of embarrassingly funny moments.
Sylvie was such an amusing narrator and I was happy to join her in her mis-adventures. Her neighbours, friends, colleagues and her husband were just as engaging. Kinsella has a knack for rendering all sorts of eccentric and all-too believable characters.
What I appreciated the most was that the humorous – or plain silly – moments are counteracted by more heart-warming scenes, and that all of it is woven into Sylvie’s every-day routine.
Light, tender, down-to-earth, this novel is the perfect pick-me-up.

“I remember this from when Daddy died – at first you’re numb. You function perfectly. You smile and crack jokes. You think, Wow, it’s actually all fine, I must be a really strong person, who knew And it’s only later that the pain swallows you up and you start dry-heaving into your sink.”

My rating: 3.5 stars

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