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Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall — book review

Boyfriend Material reads less like fiction than fanfiction. No one acts their age, we have50225678.jpg an exceedingly angsty protagonist, a plethora of silly side characters who express themselves using a Tumblresque sort of lingo, unlikely interactions, and a lot tropes.
The novel’s sitcom-like structure was predictable and often unfunny. Luc O’Donnell’s friends, colleagues, and acquaintances had very one-dimensional roles: we have the straight friend who is always having a crisis at work (one more ludicrous than the other), the lesbian friend who is short and angry, the gay couple that share the same first and last name (and are both referred as James Royce-Royce) and have opposing personalities, a few ridiculously posh characters (who had no clue of anything related to contemporary culture or social norms), the fanciful French mother (who is very much the British idea of a French person), the estranged rock star father…
Luc was so self-centred and monotonous that I soon grew tired of him. He has a few genuinely funny lines (when he’s told not to give up he replies: “But I like giving up. It’s my single biggest talent”) but these are far too few in-between. The narrative tries to make us sympathise with him because he’s been sold-out by his ex-boyfriend and because his dad had 0 interest in acting like a father…and yeah, those things aren’t great but they don’t make his self-pitying narcissism any less annoying. Most of the conversations he has with other people, Oliver in particular, revolve around what he has experienced, what he feels, wants, and fears. I just wish he hadn’t been so focused on himself as it made him rather unlikable.
The other characters are really unbelievable and behave unconvincingly. They did not act or speak like actual human beings.
The running gags were just unfunny: most characters treat Oliver’s vegetarianism as if it was an obscure dietary lifestyle they could never wrap their heads around, Luc’s posh colleagues doesn’t understand his jokes, while Welsh characters accuse Luc of being racist against Welsh people (this annoyed me because they kept throwing around the word ‘racism’ when it had nothing to with racism. Luc not knowing about Welsh history or culture is not racism).
The romance never grabbed me as Oliver was such a stilted character as to be difficult to believe in. Luc often acted like a child with Oliver which made their romance a bit…cringe-y.
Sadly, this novel just didn’t work for me. It felt superficial, silly, and juvenile.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier — book review

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“They could support a teenage pregnancy, but not this, not a person who drifted from one moment to the next without any idea about where she was headed.”

Sayaka Murata meets Ottessa Moshfegh in this freewheeling and darkly funny debut novel. Jean Kyoung Frazier’s deadpan wit and playful cynicism give a subversive edge to what could otherwise seem like yet another tale of millennial ennui.

Pizza Girl is uncompromising in its portrayal of love, obsession, addiction, and depression. Our narrator and protagonist is a Korean-American pizza delivery girl who lives in suburban Los Angeles. She’s eighteen years old, pregnant, and feels increasingly detached from her supportive mother and affable boyfriend. Unlike them, our narrator cannot reconcile herself with her pregnancy, and tries to avoid thinking about her future. As her alienation grows, she retreats further into herself and spends her waking hours in a perpetual state of numbing listlessness.

“Where am I going and how do I get there? What have I done and what will I continue to do? Will I ever wake up and look in the mirror and feel good about the person staring back at me?”

Her unfulfilling existence is interrupted by Jenny, a stay-at-home mother in her late thirties who orders pickled covered pizzas for her son. Our protagonist becomes enthralled by Jenny, perceiving her as both glamorous and deeply human. Pizza girl’s desire for Jenny is all-consuming, and soon our narrator, under the illusion that Jenny too feels their ‘connection’, is hurtling down a path of self-destruction. Her reckless and erratic behaviour will unsettle both the reader and her loved ones. Yet, even at her lowest Frazier’s narrator is never repelling. Her delusions, her anxieties, her world-weariness are rendered with clarity and empathy.

She feels simultaneously unseen and suffocated by the people in her life. While readers understand, to a certain extent, that her sluggish attitude and cruel words are borne out of painful frustration. Her unspoken misgivings (about who is she and what kind of future awaits her, about having a child and being a mother), her unease and guilt, her fear of resembling her now deceased alcoholic father, make her all the more desperate for a way out of her life. Unlike others Jenny seems unafraid to show her vulnerabilities, and there is a strange kinship between these two women.

“I’ll tell you what I wish someone told me when I was eighteen—it never goes away.”
“What is ‘it,’ exactly?”
“All of it, any of it, just it.”

While the world Frazier depicts seems at times incredibly pessimistic, the narrator’s unerring, wry, and compelling voice never succumbs to her bleak circumstances.
Frazier’s prose has this lively quality to it, one that makes Pizza Girl into an incredibly absorbing read. The feverish latter part of the story, in which others call into question our protagonist’s state of mind, brought to mind Caroline O’Donoghue’s novels (in particular Promising Young Women). Let it be said that things get confusing (and somewhat horrifying).

“Han was a sickness of the soul, an acceptance of having a life that would be filled with sorrow and resentment and knowing that deep down, despite this acceptance, despite cold and hard facts that proved life was long and full of undeserved miseries, “hope” was still a word that carried warmth and meaning. Despite themselves, Koreans were not believers, but feelers—they pictured the light at the end of the tunnel and fantasized about how lovely that first touch of sun would feel against their skin, about all they could do in wide-open spaces.”

Frazier’s mumblecore-esque dialogues demonstrate her attentive ear for language. Speaking of language, I particularly liked pizza girl’s assessment of ready replies like ‘I’m okay’ or ‘I’m fine’.

“Fine,” a word you used when you stubbed your toe and people asked you if you were okay and you didn’t want to sound like a little bitch. When your mom gave you Cheerios after you asked for Froot Loops. Something you said to people who asked about your day and you didn’t know them well enough to give them a real answer. Never a word used when talking about anything of value.”

Pizza girl’s disconnect—from others, reality, and herself—is vibrantly rendered. Her troubled relationship with her dysfunctional father hit particularly hard as I found her conflicting thoughts towards him (and the idea of resembling him) to echo my own experiences.

Similarly to Hilary Leichter and Hiromi Kawakami Frazier’s surrealism is rooted in everyday life. Funny, moving, and unapologetic, Pizza Girl is a great debut novel. The narrator’s fuck-ups will undoubtedly make you uncomfortable, but much of her harmful behaviour stems from self-loathing and it also points to other people’s hypocritical attitudes towards those who are deemed ‘troubled’.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Ayoade on Top by Richard Ayoade — book review

Ayoade on Top is a hilariously strange book. Richard Ayoade’s critical analysis of ‘View from the Top’ (a 2003 romcom starring Gwyneth Paltrow) is a delight to read. Throughout the course of this short book Ayoade argues that this long-forgotten film is a modern masterpiece.
I found Ayoade’s dry wit and his clever observations regarding the film’s many ‘subtexts’ and his asides on Paltrow’s career to be ‘on point’. Ayoade’s humour may not be for everyone but I found Ayoade on Top to be a thoroughly diverting book.
You can watch him talk of this book here.
I would definitely recommend this to those who like in-depth takedowns of bad movies. Adroit, satirical, and whimsical, Ayoade on Top is a really entertaining read.

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

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Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey — book review

25746685.jpgWays to Disappear tries hard to evoke the absurd and surreal atmosphere that is often associated with Latin American magical realism, the end result makes for a rather dismal homage. The lack of quotations marks and the inclusion of word definitions hardly make Ways to Disappear innovative. A nondescript American translator flies to Brazil after Beatriz Yagoda, a ‘brilliant’ writer, disappears having been last spotted climbing into a tree. The translator’s relationship to Beatriz is opaque at best. Their relationship was clearly no ordinary author/translator relationship but I never got an impression that Emma (aka the American) was concerned for Beatriz. She wants a reason to leave her unmemorable fiancée. In Brazil ruffles the feathers of Beatriz’s daughter (who quite rightfully wonders why Emma has inserted herself in her mother’s life) and predictably ends up entangled with the author’s ‘sexy’ son (his one defining quality is that he is ‘smooth’, a ‘lover’….which is kind of stereotypical). The plot goes nowhere, the characters fight amongst themselves, and make skin-deep realisations.
The only redeeming quality of this novel is its short length. Other than that…it offers little (if anything): the characters are unfunny caricatures, Brazil is simplistically painted as being hot and corrupt, and the story, if we can call it such, was a combination of meaningless and slapdash.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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The Adventures of Isabel: An Epitome Apartments Mystery by Candas Jane Dorsey — book review

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“I spend my days staring at the wall and fantasising about disembowelling my cat as an offering to whatever bitch goddess has been organising my life lately. I am so depressed that if I could motivate myself to it I’d commit suicide, but it’s too proactive for me.”

The subtitle of this novel is quite apt: ‘A Postmodern Mystery’. The Adventures of Isabel is to detective/mystery fiction what Picasso is to Turner. Candas Jane Dorsey has written an absorbing and extremely metafictional (the narrator frequently ‘breaks’ the fourth wall) mystery that feels very much of ‘the now’. The novel’s unmanned narrator, single, ambisexual, in her late thirties, a downsized social worker, is down on her luck. Her life takes an interesting turn when Maddy, the granddaughter of one her closest friends, is found murdered. Because of Maddy’s line of work, Hep (aka her grandmother) believes that the police won’t be solve her case.

“Hep then named an hourly rate which made even my overinflated self-indulgent subconscious blink, and between the emotional blackmail of being reminded how much I owed Denis, the memory of my empty cupboard, evocations of the pitiful dead kid, and greed, I was persuaded—provisionally, with confirmation to be given once I sobered up—to give up my career as a call girl and become a detective.”

Our protagonist begrudgingly takes on the role of ‘detective’, using her knowledge of the city’s underbelly she uses a police connection and her extensive social network to solve Maddy’s murderer. Her investigation is anything but straightforward, and often falls into the absurd a la Alice in Wonderland. The novel is less interested in the plot than it is with ‘style’. The spotlight remains on the protagonist’s meta narration. Dorsey’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a ‘contemporary’ society is delightfully humorous.
The cast of characters are as entertaining as our narrator, and often their conversations spiral into the nonsensical. I particularly liked the narrator’s relationship with her religious cousin and Jian (who is beyond cool). There are some running gags (Bunnywit’s ‘original’ name, the fish sticks) that make the narrator’s reality feel familiar.
As much as I loved the narrator’s metafictional asides, or her ramblings on other characters’ word-choices, it did seem that the ‘murder story’ was lost in all this postmodern cacophony. Amidst the characters’ digressing discussions and our mc’s various monologues, I often lost sight of the actual investigation. Still, I liked Dorsey’s original approach to this genre, and I really ‘clicked’ with her protagonist. Without loosing the lighthearted tone of her narrative, Dorsey manages to directly address issues such as gender, sexuality, and race.
The novel’s strength is in its energetic narrative and in the protagonist’s dark humour. I will quite happily read another novel about this main character as I would like to learn more of her backstory.

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

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The Sundial by Shirley Jackson — book review

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“I mean, why should I figure I’m so special, the world is going to end while I’m around?”

In The Sundial, perhaps Shirley Jackson’s most comical novel, twelve rather disagreeable individuals are cooped together in a mansion waiting for the end of the world.

“The house would be guarded during the night of destruction and at its end they would emerge safe and pure. They were charged with the future of humanity; when they came forth from the house it would be into a world clean and silent, their inheritance.”

When Aunt Fanny, a rather ditsy spinster whose passive aggressive martyr act brought to mind E. M. Forster’s Miss Bartlett, is threatened out of her family home by her megalomaniac sister-in-law, she is quite rightfully distressed. Lucky for Aunt Fanny, on that very same day she happens to hear the disembodied voice of her deceased father. He warns Aunt Fanny of an impending apocalypse, and tells her not to leave the Halloran estate: “Tell them in the house that they will be saved. Do not let them leave the house.”
When Aunt Fanny reports her father’s warning, her brother’s wife, Orianna, although not entirely convinced, decides that if there is to be a new world, she wants in. More people join their ranks, some by chance, such as Orianna’s friend and her two daughters, while others, such as a random stranger, are more or less coerced into remaining.
Aunt Fanny is perhaps the only character who actively tries to prepare for ‘life’ after doomsday: she buys a Boy Scout handbook and other books that have “practical information on primitive living”, as well as stocking up the house with food and other essentials (her bulk-buying puts to shame today’s panic buyers). In the meantime the solipsistic and conniving Orianna ensures her authority, punishing those who dare to defy her and her rules.

The Sundial offers its readers some brilliantly absurd scenes. For instance, when Aunt Fanny picks up a stranger in the village and decides to name him “Captain Scarabombardon”, or when the residents of Halloran house come into contact with the True Believers. The dialogues in this novel demonstrate Jackson’s wicked sense of humour, as she’s unafraid of ridiculing her own characters.
Make no mistake though, this darkly comedic novel has its disturbing moments, and a sense of unease pervades much of the narrative.

In some ways this novel is decidedly Jackson-esque. First of all, we have the setting:

“The character of the house is perhaps of interest. It stood upon a small rise in ground, and all the land it surveyed belonged to the Halloran family. The Halloran land was distinguished from the rest of the world by a stone wall, which went completely around the estate, so that all inside the wall was Halloran, all outside was not.”

This is yet another novel by Jackson explores the double function of houses: the Halloran mansion is both a fortress—a place of safety—and a prison.
We also have tensions between an aristocratic family and the ‘small minded’ villagers (who are often described as belonging to an inferior species), toxic and possibly murderous relatives, creepy young girls (who are far more perceptive than others think), and mind-wandering wheelchair bound old men.

Jackson’s writing is as clever as always. Not a word is out of place. From her scintillating descriptions (“a lady of indeterminate shape, but vigorous presence,”) to the careful yet impactful way in which she arranges her phrases. And of course, her dialogues are a pure delight to read:

“Humanity, as an experiment, has failed.”
“Well, I’m sure I did the best I could,” Maryjane said.
“Do you understand that this world will be destroyed? Soon?”
“I just couldn’t care less,” Maryjane said.

This being a novel by Jackson, most of the characters hate other people and the rest of the world. Aunt Fanny’s ‘prophecy’ gives them the possibility of entertaining a future in which they are different. Yet, they are so occupied with their future as to completely ignore the people around them, so that meaningful heart-to-hearts inevitably fail.

“But there aren’t any good people,” Gloria said helplessly. “No one is anything but tired and ugly and mean.”

The ambiguous nature of Jackson’s story and her characters may not appeal to those who dislike when things happen off-stage. Personally, I love that Jackson doesn’t always provide answers to the mysteries within her stories.
I would definitely recommend this to fans of Jackson, or to those are interested in a satirical ‘pre-doomsday’ story populated by an Addams type of family.

Some of my favourite quotes:

“Now, she thought; I may go mad, but at least I look like a lady.”

“You, sir,” the man said, addressing Essex. “Do you atone?”
“Daily,” said Essex.
“Sin?”
“When I can,” said Essex manfully.”

“I will not have space ships landing on my lawn. Those people are perfectly capable of sending their saucers just anywhere, with no respect for private property.”

“Can you cook?”
“Admirably.”
“You would have to cook poorly, to meet my ideal. I want the kind of dismal future only possible in this world. ”

“I personally deplore this evidence of frayed nerves; we do not have much longer to wait, after all, and perhaps if we cannot contain ourselves we had better remain decently apart.”

“If my lunacy takes the form of desiring to wear a crown, will you deny me? May I not look foolish in tolerant peace? ”

“There’s no denying, for instance, that my clever Julia is a fool and my lovely Arabella is a—”
“Flirt,” Mrs. Halloran said.
“Well, I was going to say tart, but it’s your house, after all.”

“We must try to think of ourselves,” Mrs. Halloran went on, “as absolutely isolated. We are on a tiny island in a raging sea; we are a point of safety in a world of ruin.”

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune — book review

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“He was here to observe and nothing more. He couldn’t influence the orphanage. It wouldn’t be proper. The RULES AND REGULATIONS were specific about such matters.”

The House in the Cerulean Sea tells an equal parts heartwarming and silly tale. The world in this novel is fairly reminiscent of our own one however its pages are full of magical people and creatures. The government closely monitors those who are deemed not human and they are raised in government sanctioned orphanages.
As a case worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth (often abbreviated to DICOMY) Linus Baker, a solitary forty year old, oversees and inspects these orphanages. His job consists in ensuring the children’s wellbeing and that the people who are running these orphanages are following DICOMY guidelines. Linus himself abides by DICOMY’s strict rules and regulations.
His routine is brusquely interrupted when he is summoned by DICOMY’s Extremely Upper Management, only to be unexpectedly tasked with an unusual and highly sensitive assignment: he has to leave the city and travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage. The orphanage is run by the rather mysterious and eccentric Arthur Parnassus. It is up to Linus to determine whether the six children who reside there (a female gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist) should be taken away from the Island.
As the story progresses Linus begins to question DICOMY and its methods. Once he is able to move past what his case files tell him about these children, he begins to see them in their own right.

In the novel magical powers/appearances is a metaphor for being different. They are isolated from ‘ordinary’ humans, raised in controlled environments, treated with mistrust and or outright hatred. Linus finds himself challenging his own assumptions and preconceptions about these children.
Ultimately this is a story about the family that you choose: Linus himself has always felt like he doesn’t quite belong. On the Island, alongside the children and Arthur, he starts to feel more at ease with who he is as well as the type of person he wants to be.
The novel is filled with quirky humour and charming dialogues. There were quite a few elements that struck me as being a bit too silly for my taste, so that occasionally the story verged on being ridiculous (such as all of those ‘Oh My’ that Linus utters) but for the most part I liked this novel, it even made me smile here and there.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars

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Temporary by Hilary Leichter — book review

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“The gods created the First Temporary so they could take a break.”

Temporary is a wonderfully bizarre novel. Readers who prefer to read stories that are grounded in reality or that are ruled by logic and reason may be better off steering clear from the sheer absurdity that is Temporary.

“She noted the fallacy of permanence in a world where everything ends and desired that kind of permanence all the same.”

Within this novel Hilary Leichter takes to the extreme the role of a temporary worker and the world which she writes of only vaguely resemble our own. In her hyperbolic vision of a capitalistic society generations of temporaries spend their lives in pursuit of ‘the steadiness’ (gainful employment/permanency) The temporary positions which one can be assigned to have a Kafkaesque quality to them: opening and closing doors in a house, filling in for a parrot on a pirate ship, assisting a murderer, working as a body scanner that detects emotion, pushing random buttons…each temporary role is dictated by arbitrary rules and nonsensical tasks, or characterised by confounding hierarchies and even sexual harassment.
The narrator, like her mother and her grandmother before her, goes from temporary position to temporary position with an upbeat can-do attitude. To ‘work’, to do her job, is everything to her, regardless of what the job actually entails. She has several boyfriends, whom she distinguishes by referring to their physical attributes, such as ‘the tall boyfriend’, or their profession, such as ‘the culinary boyfriend, rather than their names.

Throughout the course of the narrative the narrator finds herself doing increasingly outlandish gigs.
The story is ridiculous, and so are the characters and their interactions. But it is also hilariously absurd. Having worked as a temp, and being too aware of the way in which temporary workers are often regarded as little more than disposable cutlery, I deeply enjoyed Leichter’s critique of modern society, particularly the gig economy.

The effervescent writing style brought to mind novels by Japanese authors such as Yōko Ogawa, Sayaka Murata, and Hiromi Kawakami while the protagonist’s fanciful narration, as well as the peculiar people she encounters, echoed Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Temporary is just endearingly unapologetic in its weirdness.

“We drink some water side by side, our bodies full of fluids, of blood and acid and methods of hydration, caffeination, intoxication.”

Through addition of purply metaphors, frequent rapid-firing of words (so that phrases seem to have been breathlessly blurted out), and ping-pong dialogues, Leichter’s magnifies the weird atmosphere of her story.

“What were you thinking?”
“I was just thinking differently.”
“Who said you get to think differently?”
“No one.”

Underneath this novel’s layer of surreality lies an all too relevant tale. Clever, funny, nonsensical, Leichter’s debut novel is a fable for the modern age.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert — book review

43884209.jpgI feel cheated by the cutesy illustration on the cover of Get a Life, Chloe Brown.
Having recently finished a romcom novel with a similar cover (If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane) I was under the misguided impression that Talia Hibbert’s book belonged to the same genre.
While Get a Life, Chloe Brown certainly starts out like any other romcom, with the promise of a delightful enemies-to-lovers romance, after the first fifty pages or so I realised that this book was going to be a lot more explicit than I’d anticipated …still, I wasn’t prepared for the sex in this book to be quite so
cringeworthy
.

The Good Stuff

After escaping unscathed what could have been fatal accident Chloe Brown, a thirty-something-year-old whose fibromyalgia has led her to live a fairly controlled and risk-free life, decides to ‘get a life’. She makes a list (with things such as ride a motorbike, go camping, have carefree sex) and finally moves out of her family’s house.
The first few chapters of Get a Life, Chloe Brown were thoroughly entertaining.
While we know that Chloe has a lot to contend with, her upfront and amusing inner monologues, and her awkward exchanges with others were diverting and uplifting.
Chloe’s reserved demeanour and cutting humour cause the superintendent/handyman of her building to form a not so great opinion of her and sees her as a haughty snob. Chloe herself dislikes Redford ‘Red’ Morgan because of his laid-back attitude and for the easy way in which he can charm others (including her younger sisters).
After Red rescues Chloe from a tree (in what was her attempt to rescue a cat) the two strike up a deal: Red will help Chloe with her list and in exchange she will build a website for Red’s art. At this stage of the book I found their dynamic amusing and I sympathised with both of them.
I was particularly looking forward to reading about Chloe’s story arc as I also suffer from chronic pain. Talia Hibbert articulates the in congruencies that come with chronic illness: Chloe’s craves independence and freedom, she does not want to be see in the light of her condition…yet she simultaneously wishes that others could understand that the everyday activities, actions and movements they might take for granted are impossible or cause incredible pain to her. I loved it when she tells Red that she isn’t hurt, she is hurting. Her condition is a constant. Yet, she doesn’t let fibromyalgia dictate everything that she is or does. Chloe has so much else going for her: her job as a website designer, her sense of style, and her humour.

The Not So Good Stuff
As I said, the relationship between Red and Chloe started well enough as it promised to be more of a slow-burn. Boy, was I wrong. After the first 50 pages Red is already masturbating and fantasising about Chloe (this after 1 sort of amicable/very banter-y interaction). Soon, the novel completely focused on Red and Chloe and their shared physical attraction.
What about Chloe’s sisters? Her parents? Her grandmother? They seem forgotten. The sisters have a cameo or two but that’s about it. I wanted to see more family interactions…especially since we are told that Chloe spent the last ten years of her life interacting and socialising with her family and has 0 friends. Surely she would have thought about them more?
Red…I wanted to like him…but I just couldn’t look past his creepy behaviour. He barely knows Chloe when he makes a pass on her. She was vulnerable, and he seemed to take advantage of that. He also had this weird ‘I’m a nice guy’ act which had him behaving like a woman’s idea of the ideal man (sensitive, funny, attentive, artistic, and most of all: HUNKY). Because we will be reminded time and again that Red is BIG, he is HUGE. Red is basically a tall and ripped walking breathing Greek statue.
Most of the book is about Red and Chloe fantasising about one another and having sexual encounters. There is some predictable miscommunication towards the end and that’s about it.
I don’t mind the odd sex scene or so but when the narrative is nearly entirely focused on the physical attraction between the two leads well, I begin to loose interest.
Hibbert’s portrayal of class is simplistic and superficial. Part of me was annoyed by the fact that Chloe never acknowledges her privileged background. Having fibromyalgia does not negate one’s wealth/education.
More than anything, I was disconcerted by the incongruent tone of this novel: on the one hand we have this very cutesy story in which both leads seem to act in a very childlike manner (with Red thinking and saying to Chloe things such as “you are too cute”, nicknaming her “Button”, and their silly email exchanges) on the other we have scenes upon scenes of cringe-worthy sex scenes that seemed closer to bad porn (is there such a thing as good porn? I doubt that) that a romance novel.

The Not Good At All Stuff (heads up: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE BELOW)
The scenes leading to their sexual encounters try to come across as hard-core, filled with dirty, and frankly crude, talk: the actual sex scenes however are anything but sexy or ‘steamy’ and I had a hard time keeping a straight face as they made me laugh my head off. They manage to be a weird combination of tawdry and hilarious.
These are some of unintentionally funny descriptions of Chloe and Red’s sex scenes:
➜ “her hot pussy fluttering around him” (fluttering?)
➜ “He gritted his teeth as his orgasm came barreling at him like a freight train” (I am dying with laughter. Like a freight train? Chloe better watch out!)
➜ “She melted, and he licked up her wetness like nectar.” (Chloe sure does melt a lot)
➜ “Her orgasm was so powerful she thought she might black out.” (their orgasms sure are powerful, better watch out for a concussion)

There were however also a lot of antiquated, and out of character, moments in which Red orders around Chloe (up to that point Red has been depicted as the embodiment of kindness, and whose inherently serene disposition make everyone around him, himself included, refer to him as a ‘nice guy’; whereas Chloe strives for independence and has a strong sense of integrity and justice).
Maybe if their ‘dirty talks’ had been more in line with their established personalities and dynamic (with Red reffering to Chloe as Button and Chloe calling Red Mr.Morgan ) I wouldn’t have found it so trashy. But here we have two supposedly ‘modern/different’ individuals who during their sexual encounters take up antiquated, outdated, and inherently misogynistic roles in which the man commands the woman:
➜“Who was she? Apparently, the kind of woman who thrilled at coarse orders like that, and broke a little bit when they were followed with hoarse manners.”
➜“I want to hold you open like this when you take my cock.”

And the worst thing is that this kind of talk starts when their friendship is still uncertain. Red, our supposedly tranquil and empathic guy, tells Chloe that “I want to put my hand under your skirt and feel how hot your pretty cunt is. But I bet you wouldn’t let me do that in public” when they still don’t know each other very well when they are out on a Chloe’s first night out.
There is also a scene following their first amicable encounter where we get a fully detailed depiction of Red masturbating while he fantasises about Chloe, a woman who until the previous morning he had disliked and whom he barely knows.

As much as I wanted to love this novel, I found the characters’ sex scenes to be vulgar and obsolete. One may have certain fetishes, whatever floats your boat, but why do so many ‘romance novels’s feature a woman who is happy to be spoken about in such a way? ‘Thrilled’ to be ordered and commanded, made to ‘beg’ until her manly man finally grants her the gift of his almighty ‘penis’. Also, how many women who come from a background similar to Chloe’s would refer to their vagina as their pussy? There is nothing wrong with the word VAGINA. It exists, use it.

I just wasn’t a fan of the way in which Hibbert would describe her characters’ desire. Most of the time her expressions and metaphors are either questionable or unfunny:
➜“She was dissolving like sugar in hot tea.”
➜“Her middle melted like chocolate fudge cake.”

Final verdict
What started out as a witty romcom ended up being closer to erotica with sex scenes which are both disempowering and unintentionally hilarious.
I have learnt my lesson: never trust a book cover.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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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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