Monday, 2 September 2013

You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

You Had Me at Hello (2012) (Avon)
Mhairi McFarlane
Grade: A
Genre: chick lit
Sex scenes: kisses
Source: library

Rachel Woodford and Ben Morgan. Met (whilst sober) during Fresher’s Week and inseparable for the next three years of their English course at Manchester University. Rachel is already in a relationship with Rhys, a guy from home, otherwise she would totally act on these feelings she’s got harbouring for her best friend. Ben, on the other hand, is carefree and single, with a new girlfriend every few months, cruising the relationship lane as is expected of university undergraduates. Yet, despite being thick as thieves for three years, the night after their graduation ball, all contact is severed completely.

Ten years later, and a chance encounter outside the library makes the years drop away. Rachel has recently broken up after thirteen years with Rhys and is a courtroom journalist in her hometown of Sheffield. Ben and his wife Olivia have recently moved up from London, to make a new life for themselves up north while Ben studies to become a lawyer. The memories of their uni life feel like just yesterday, yet neither can forget that Ben is married, and Rachel is not. Will they be able to rekindle their old friendship and stay just friends?

A lot of books are making my ‘Best of 2013’ list and so inevitably, I’m going to have to cut down considerably when it comes to December/January. YHMAH has, I hope, safely gained a top spot on the list, so fingers crossed. While more suited to a blustery, winter’s day than a summer read (to coincide with the seasons of the book) it was a fabulous read nonetheless. I’ve been quite charmed by the North, despite being a decidedly Southern girl myself, and that’s really quite something, coming from me. Though, I guess, continuing to generalise ‘the North’ in such terms is perhaps an indicator that I haven’t taken to it that much.

I think I’ve figured out why, in comparison to straight romance (whether it be historical or contemporary, medieval or erotica etc) I don’t like chicklit very much. In romance novels, you hardly ever have to worry that the heroine or hero are married/engaged/informally promised to someone else. It’s just not something that happens, and if it does, it’s all sorted out neatly with a duel, or horrible illness where no cure has yet to develop, or discovery that the current partner is cheating or whatnot. In chicklit, I’ve always found it a little more sticky.

From the top of my head, I can think of only one book (Elizabeth Hoyt’s Notorious Pleasures) where the heroine was betrothed to another. Otherwise, the hero and heroine have it pretty easy going. In historicals, they’re already promised to each other / caught/do something that puts them in a compromising situation; in contemporaries, they’re just It for one another, no question about it. When we step into chicklit ground, the water starts to get murky and my moral boundaries start to slip and slide rather uncomfortably. A lot of the time, either the hero or heroine are with someone else that isn’t their soulmate, and while I can’t condone cheating, how else would they end up together and get their HEA? In my head, if I just stick to romance, everyone’s happy.

Each chapter alternates between the present and uni life. It’s a fantastic way to physically see how characters have developed and matured over the course of ten years, but usually I would have found such era-swapping too frequent. This was different. I don’t know how, but Mhairi McFarlane made it seem like every uni-scene was the present Rachel remembering those particular scenes, rather than the reader seeing it happen ‘live.’ I have no idea how she did it, or whether that’s just my own perception, but I loved it.

You would think that I would now be able to spot an unreliable narrator by a mile, but still no luck. Yet however infuriating I continue to find them once they’re discovered, I still can’t hate them for it. Rachel, Ben and her friends were fantastic characters and I would happily read a book two to meet them again, if that didn’t mean that things would have to go wrong.

This was a fantastic debut and I’m really looking forward to Mhairi McFarlane’s second book, Here’s Looking at You. I was enthralled by Ms McFarlane’s writing and characters and genuinely scared (perhaps not quite the right word, but the only one I can think of for now) that I wouldn’t get the happy ever after that I wanted – as ever, I shouldn’t have ever doubted it. I don’t think that concern ever something I’ll ever grow out of, and I’m very glad.

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.

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