My old friend from school introduced me to Mhairi McFarlane’s books. McFarlane writes contemporary romance novels that don’t fit the typical romance formula. It usually takes longer for the characters to get together, and there is more emphasis on friends and family. I started with her latest novel, If I Never Met You (2020) before quickly jumping into Don’t You Forget About Me (2019). I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, so it didn’t take long before I picked up another one by McFarlane. You Had Me At Hello (2014) is an earlier novel. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it as much as the first two.
Rachel has been dating Rhys for thirteen years. He was the cool, older guy in a band when she was in high school. Now they are engaged and preparing for their marriage when she suddenly accepts that she’s not really happy with him. They end up calling off their wedding, and Rachel finds herself single at thirty one years old. At the same time, she runs into Ben, one of her best friends from college. He’s just moved to Manchester from London with his wife, Olivia.
The book alternates between scenes from college, when Rachel and Ben meet and become friends, with present day. Rachel is a court reporter in Manchester and has three good friends: Mindy, Caroline, and Ivor–who round out her life. Rachel and Ben easily fall back into friendship although they haven’t spoken since college–for unexplained reasons.
This book was well written. I enjoyed following Rachel’s life, and I liked the character of Ben. However, there were a couple things holding me back from loving it as much as the others. First, Ben is married. He’s very honorable and would never cheat on his wife, but I have a hard time rooting for the breakup of a marriage–even if I want to see the protagonists together. Second, part of the reason I liked the first two books so much was the strong feminist vibe throughout them, which was missing from this earlier book. There was a scene in college where Rachel is grabbed and fondled by a drunk college student. Ben comes to the rescue, but the effect of the sexual assault on Rachel is not explored at all, which surprised me after the other McFarlane books I’ve read.
Finally, I could not relate to these characters quite as well as McFarlane’s other books. In the other books I read, she evoked past break ups I’d had and I viscerally felt their pain. This one I was not quite as engaged. ***SPOILERS*** I also didn’t totally buy that if they loved each other that much, they would have stayed apart for so long. ***END SPOILERS***
I still enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it. It’s just that McFarlane set such a high bar with the first two books I read, I could not help but be a little disappointed.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.