Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Here's Looking at You by Mhairi McFarlane

Here's Looking at You (2013) (Avon)
Mhairi McFarlane
Grade: C+
Genre: chick lit
Source: own
Romance RBC 2014: A chick lit book 

Aureliana ‘Anna’ Alessi is pretty content with the way her life turned out. A thirty-something history expert and lecturer, she’s looking for Mr Right via online dating, which has yielded some interesting but non-contending results. A somewhat chubby kid at school, Anna was the source of the popular kids’ teasing and bullying – a depressing period of her life which she’s glad to have moved on from and mostly forgotten.

When Anna is asked to help put together an exhibition at the British Museum, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. That is, until, she discovers that also working on the project is James Fraser, architect of her greatest humiliation at school. Thankfully, James shows no inkling of recognising Anna from their schooldays and she’s happy to keep it that way. As they get closer both personally and professionally, Anna starts to find her opinion of James changing … People can change – Anna herself is a testament to that – so why does she feel like she’s making a mistake in trusting him?

I loved Mhairi McFarlane’s debut, You Had Me at Hello, which I read last year. I don’t generally read chick lit, but I liked the sound of this one and so decided to give it a try. It turned out to be a great decision and the title made it onto my Best of 2013 list. I had high expectations for book 2 that unfortunately, as can be seen from the grade, weren’t met.

It was an interesting concept, overall. Anna was literally traumatised by the other kids at school for years, but all credit to her, has made a remarkable transition into a normal, functional adult. She loves her job, has a small group of tight-knit friends and though she’s yet to find Mr Right, she’s having a fun time trying. The book starts with one such first date where Neil reveals far more about his sexual preferences than would normally be polite, and Anna decides not to pursue a second date. Amusingly, Neil is annoyingly persistent and keen to tell Anna all about how repressed he thinks she is, which leads to a number of hilarious email exchanges throughout the book. Mhairi McFarlane definitely knows how to do funny.

I just didn’t enjoy this as much as YHMaH and I’m unable to pinpoint exactly why. There’s a few potential reasons, which I’ll moot through now. Firstly, I don’t think I was ever fully convinced that James was ‘the good guy.’ Partly because he was the instigator of Anna’s humiliation at school, and also because at the start of the book, he’s going through a tough break-up with his wife and is still hanging onto the last shreds of hope that they’ll get back together. I concede that he does manage to redeem himself on a number of occasions and he is a nice guy overall, but I still found it difficult to balance this all out. Secondly, I did like Anna – snarky, clever and polished after a traumatic childhood, but I wasn’t quite so sure about her friends. As a heroine, I could relate to her on a number of levels, but I didn’t like the whole extended package. There are probably a few other reasons that I can’t think of right now, but all of these reasons had the collective result that I just didn’t enjoy the book as much as I expected and wanted to.

This was a highly disappointing end result, but I don’t think that my journey with HLaY ends quite there. I have an underlying feeling of unfinished business surrounding the book that I might just have to leave it awhile and return again at some point in the future. I’m hoping that time and distance might give me a fresh perspective so that when the time comes, I can enjoy this as I expected to. I’m not giving up hope just yet – if James could redeem himself with Anna, hopefully the whole book can do the same.

Image courtesy of Book Depository.

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