I cannot with this book. I cannot with this author. It’s a problem I’m going to have to work through since any time I get off the wait list for one of her books I basically become a non-entity till I’m done and I regularly have to resist the urge to email Ms. Hibbert to inform her that we are basically soul mates because that seems a little intense coming from a stranger. My preferred review for this book would just be various noises, but those don’t translate to text, so we must endure.
The story is pretty simple. Chloe is a rich, sarcastic, bitingly funny woman hit with fibromyalgia in her 20’s. In the subsequent years she lost much of what she enjoyed to pain and fatigue and people’s inability to deal with her illness. The book starts with her having a near death experience and decides she’s not going to spend the rest of her life being a hermit just because she’s in constant pain and mildly agoraphobic. She writes a list, a Get a Life list, to accomplish this. Redford is the a relentlessly friendly, briefly big shot artist currently slumming it as a superintendent in Chloe’s new building because he’s burned a bunch of bridges in London. Unlike Chloe, he comes from very humble beginnings and class plays a big role in how the story plays out.
Chloe needs help getting started because, well, because her list sucks and she doesn’t really want to do most of the things on it and he’s a golden retriever of a man who seems to suck the marrow out of life, so surely he can help?
Usually, I’m not a fan of these kinds of highly contrived situations, but as always, Hibbert manages to take a trope and make it real and meaningful. The list isn’t arbitrary. Chloe writes everything down because her pain medication messes with her short term memory. The items on the list are scrutinized start off as her trying to recapture a life she’s lost and transform into the life she wants to have. Red’s involvement doesn’t come from a bet or other contrived nonsense. Chloe doesn’t feel brave enough to tackle the list herself, so she offers to build him a website for his art in exchange because a deal seemed safer than actually trying to make friends.
Turns out both Chloe and Red have experienced trauma around relationships and both are working their way out of emotional black holes using avoidance and dark humor. There is abandonment and abuse in their pasts in a way that is rarely explored in media, particularly Red’s experiences. Some of those experiences are explicit on the page and can be triggering. In my view, these experiences are handled with the kind of bone deep compassion that I found validating rather than triggering but your mileage may vary.
The treatment of Chloe’s illness is also, as one might expert from an author with personal experience to draw on, dealt with gently and kindly. Don’t expect Red’s magic dick to cure Chloe. Though I don’t suffer from health issues to the extent that Chloe does, I have chronic pain and seeing a character who also experiences that get to be the heroine of her own story meant a lot to me. Chloe is also not a size 0 heroine. She’s a big girl and it never comes up and I love that. Hibbert is working overtime on trying to normalize people with disabilities and fat people having both sexual urges no different than anyone else and the ability to be desirable without it being fetishized.
It was also a much needed reminder that I still have work to do on myself. More than once during the book I would scoff at something Red would do. Something sweet and gentle and kind and emotionally intelligent, because come on, no one is that perfect, what an annoying romance novel trope! Which is particularly stupid not only because dudes totally can be those things but I have literally been married to a dude like that for almost a decade. And still, I sometimes fall into the “ugh, men” trap, which makes me part of the problem in a society that often tells dudes that those kinds of traits are not expected of them because men simply aren’t that good. They can be. They deserve nothing less and so do we. Something to work on.
This book is equal parts funny, sweet, and sarcastic. It is realistic but optimistic at the same time, because things can get better, but only if we make them better. It is a character study of two, fully fleshed out individuals coming out from the dark and finding stronger versions of themselves on the other side. It is the romance genre at its best. You should read it.
And for the audiophiles? Hands down the best audiobook I’ve ever listened to. The narrator, Adjoa Andoh, is fan-fucking-tastic and deserves her own shout out for making the material fly off the page.