My friend recommended If I Never Met You (2020) by Mhairi McFarlane. She said that it was a good, fun romance that involved lawyers in their thirties. Since we are both lawyers that are getting older every day, she enjoyed it and she thought I would as well. And I really did. This is definitely my favorite romance of the year, and it was even more enjoyable for me because I had no expectations coming into it.
Laurie Watkinson has been with her partner Dan for half of her life–since she was eighteen years old. They are both lawyers at a busy law firm, Salter and Rowson. She expects that they will have children and possibly get married soon, but it was never something that she was itching to rush into. But then Dan unexpectedly blindsides her with the fact that he’s not happy and he wants to break up with her. Laurie is shattered. She could not even begin to conceive of her life without him. And what makes it worse is that Laurie has to see Dan at work while trying to avoid being the subject of the ever present gossip mill.
Jamie Carter is an up-and-coming attorney who also works at Salter and Rowson. He has high expectations and would like to make partner. However, the current partners are pretty conservative and they don’t appreciate Jamie’s reputation for being a womanizing singleton. They’d prefer someone with a stable partner.
One evening, Jamie and Laurie get trapped in an elevator at the end of the work day. They go for drinks after and end up talking. Jamie comes up with the crazy idea that they pretend to date. He said that Laurie can use him to make Dan crazy jealous and come crawling back to her. And he can have a stable relationship with a woman that the partners already admire. Laurie, despite her best friend’s very sage advice, decides to give it a shot.
***SPOILERS*** What makes Laurie’s situation even more gut wrenching is that she discovers that there is another woman. Dan had met someone, another lawyer in court, and they’d gotten very close. He didn’t physically cheat on Laurie because he fancied himself a good guy, but he left Laurie for this other woman.
Laurie still thinks that Dan will come to his senses and find his way back to her. But bad news often comes in threes. One day, Dan asks to come over after work to talk to her. Laurie is pretty sure that the time has come for Dan to grovel his way back into her life. She is very wrong. Instead, she is informed that Dan and his new girlfriend are expecting a baby. In an incredibly short amount of time, Laurie is seeing her partner of eighteen years doing all the things she was expecting to do with him–but with another woman. And to make matters worse, he waited until she was thirty six to leave her, so she doesn’t have that much time to find another partner to have kids with–something she’s always known she’s wanted. ***END SPOILERS***
This book had some really good romance. Jamie and Laurie make a lovely couple and McFarlane does a great job with the slow burn. But what made this book rise above other romances I’ve read this year was the non-romance writing. Laurie’s continued heartbreak with Dan was very well written and felt very realistic. Although I’ve never been in Laurie’s specific situation, I could wholly relate to her grief over her broken relationship. In addition, McFarlane did a very good job with the lawyering work. I’m more familiar with American law, of course, but there was enough realistic detail that I believed the characters were actually lawyers. I even thought the author might be a lawyer. Perhaps most of all, I appreciated how McFarlane depicted the subtle sexism (and sometimes racism) that Laurie had to deal with at her law firm. There was a lot of thoughtful feminism in this book, and it was a delight to read.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.