Sunday, 25 August 2013

Review: You Had Me at Hello - Mhairi McFarlane

What happens when the one that got away comes back? 
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. 
From the moment they met they’d been a gang of two; partners in crime and the best of friends. But life has moved on. Ben is married. Rachel is definitely not. In fact, the men in her life make her want to take holy orders… 
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.
 It took me forever to get a hold of You Had Me At Hello, I was on the waiting list at the library (patronise your libraries people!) for over five weeks. Any book commanding this amount of attention six months after its release surely had to be read.

McFarlane’s debut novel is ‘Brit lit’ (is this a thing? It should be a thing. British romance novels have a completely different character to their cousins across the pond) at its finest. I must admit that the one that got away/college sweethearts trope is perhaps one of my favourites and You Had Me at Hello did not disappoint.

The plot of the novel is fairly standard. Rachel is thirty-something and slowly becoming more and more dissatisfied with life, and boyfriend, when one of her best friends from college reappears. Ben is married and seemingly living the mature and settled life of Rachel’s dreams. When the two meet again their friendship picks up from the moment it left off, with added complications of course.

Rachel is one of the better written heroines I’ve read of late. There is no other way to describe her other than charmingly normal. Devoid of those oh so hilarious clumsy attributes, Rachel is instead self-deprecating and confused with life. It’s very easy to relate to the heroine who fantasises about startlingly down to earth things like laughing with her mother-in-law. Ben is the archetypal loyal and noble hero and yet, despite this, he never once martyrs himself or begins to grate with self-sacrificing spiels.

McFarlane’s plot easily traverses the college and adult relationships of Rachel and Ben, neither section feels secondary to the other, and both manage to keep you completely engaged. As usual, Rachel is buffeted and supported by a host of characters, all of whom are painted so realistically as to be as equally prominent in the novel as Rachel herself. Their inevitable dramas add to the text nicely, adding an interesting depth and parallel to the main thread of the story.

Witty and insightful, McFarlane’s debut novel is hugely enjoyable. I must admit I was worried when I read the synopsis of the book; I don’t normally go in for novels when one character is married. However [spoiler, kinda], this really didn’t come to anything for which I was greatly relieved.

Mhairi McFarlane is definitely one to watch and I can’t wait to read her next novel, Here’s Looking at You due out just in time for Christmas [hint, hint] in early December.

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