Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Book Review: 'You Had Me At Hello'


So whilst visiting my delightful younger sister in Durham last weekend, we popped into Tesco's.  She had plans of  pasta-bake variety and I was following her discussing the pros and cons of penne pasta versus conchiglie pasta (tubes versus shells).  That is until we hit the book section.

Now book sections in supermarkets are rather bizarre - you are faced with books at knockdown prices - always good - but the quality of said books is not always of the highest order.  (Though my local Tesco's Extra has a Mills&Boon section - epic!)  Nevertheless, I challenge any bookaholic to walk past without browsing and so this is where my sister found me fifteen minutes later, nose-deep in 'You Had Me At Hello'.

Now, usually at this point I would have just put the book back on the shelf and gone with her to the checkout; that's how this usually goes.  But get a load of the blurb:

‘Think of the great duos of history. We're just like them.’
‘You mean like Kylie and Jason? Torvill and Dean? Sonny and Cher?’
‘I think you’ve missed the point, Rachel.’

Rachel and Ben. Ben and Rachel. It was them against the world. Until it all fell apart. It’s been a decade since they last spoke, but when Rachel bumps into Ben one rainy day, the years melt away.

They’d been partners in crime and the best of friends. But life has moved on: Ben is married. Rachel is not. Yet in that split second, Rachel feels the old friendship return. And along with it, the broken heart she’s never been able to mend.

Hilarious, heartbreaking and everything in between, you’ll be hooked from their first ‘hello’.

I am a sucker for 'what if' romances.

Possibly foolish, almost definitely going to bit me in the arse at some point, but I enjoy them.  Scrap that, I love them.  It's why I sob uncontrollably at the end of The Notebook every single time I watch it.

Unfortunately I am sans job at the moment, which is why when Cia placed the book back firmly on the shelf and physically dragged me away, I let her.

So imagine my delight when this morning, having just completed the last book in The Hollows series that I've been addicted to (dark paranormal fantasy, very funny, well worth a read), I turned to browse my Kindle ad there it lay - at the top of my Chick Lit folder.

Reader, it was clearly fate.

As a result, I've pretty much devoured it this afternoon and am here to give my verdict.

Firstly, I love the way Mhairi McFarlane (author btw) writes.  It's written in the first person and our narrator is a flawed, interesting, intelligent and funny woman.  She's not a pushover, she makes mistakes, and she is over thirty

I also like the questions it asks us of marriage and relationships.  Once people hit a certain age, do they marry just because they feel they should?  Or do people always marry because they're head over-heels in love with their partner?  It ends up demanding that we consider why and how people break up, and most importantly it explores the concept of an all-consuming love without reverting to tweeness or becoming saccharine.

There are moments of resonance in the novel where you see real life echoed in a bizarre, slightly discomforting way.  It's fascinating to read and more than a little brilliant.  Almost impossible to put down.

There's a brilliantly witty scene at the dinner party from hell where Rachel gets cornered by unbearable Smug Marrieds (as Bridget Jones would say).  Despite being excruciatingly awkward for her - as well as us - McFarlane takes the opportunity to challenge the sanctity of marriage as an institution; and love at first sight:
Love at first sight and all that stuff is crap.  It's just the thrill of your imagination working on insufficient information.  It's that moment when someone can be anyone.  Soon passes.  And it's all the worse because you've made disappointment absolutely inevitable.
And yet, despite all that, this novel makes you believe in it.

At the end it says that Mhairi's next novel is due for publication in December and I am disappointed that I shall have to wait that long.  Good going.

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