Book Review

You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

I’ve tried not to give anything away but there might be some minor spoilers here… be warned.

I was drawn to Mhairi’s books by the buzz on my Twitter feed, long before I actually got to read one. The main reason for the delay is because my To Be Read pile is large and as mentioned in another post I’m not the most voracious reader.

You Had Me At Hello is the author’s first novel, published in 2012 and I have to say the buzz is bang on the money!

It’s actually not the kind of book I’d normally go for but the folks on my timeline who’d read it (and whose judgement I respect) had only good things to say. And on Twitter, Mhairi is witty and clever and funny… and, well, I was really intrigued.

YHMAH appears to be a light, frothy invention. A book fitting neatly into that pigeon-hole labelled (horribly) as ‘chick-lit’ or in this case, ‘edgy chick lit’. No, I don’t know either.

Anyway, cack and probably sexist categorisation aside, YHMAH is exactly what I thought it might be. Girl and boy (Rachel and Ben) meet, girl and boy despite being perfect for each other don’t get it together, girl gets involved with another boy (Rhys) and many years later leaves him when… oh wait, I’m giving too much away.

Yes, it plays out pretty much as you’d expect but that’s not to its detriment. It’s so very deftly written, containing wonderful dialogue with perfectly realised characters. It’s also heartbreaking (I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear or two) in places and funny as hell in others.

This book has made me realise a few things about my own writing. One key point is that I really shouldn’t be making things more ‘writery’ but making them more ‘readery’. A clumsy explanation, but you know what I mean. Mhairi does that. She presents the story, minus any interface (the author) to stuff things up.

Mhairi also wins points for her observations (I LOVE the drunk jump-cut walk home), again very skilfully and often hilariously presented. Yet you don’t for one second think she’s trying to be clever, or celebrate her witticisms. It’s just very natural. Human nature, the effect of poor choices, or failing to make choices at all – brilliantly revealed in this book.

A couple of things niggled me. Though everything becomes clear(er) later, I was puzzled by Rachel’s apparent lack of emotion for the first section of the plot. It appears she makes a fairly momentous decision almost on a whim. This isn’t the case but her actions immediately following said decision don’t include the kind of shock, fear or soul-searching I would have expected.

I mentioned above that the characters are perfectly realised… Rachel is actually the one I couldn’t quite picture. This may be intentional. It might be because I’m a bloke. Since this book is primarily aimed at women, perhaps the idea is that each reader sees themselves in Rachel’s place, regardless of whether or not they may have had similar experiences. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll ask the author about this.

Ben puzzled me at first too… instead of the supposed perfect partner for Rachel, he actually came across as a bit of a wally. An intense wally. If it hadn’t been for his perfect looks/physique (which is mentioned a fair bit), what on earth did she see in him? Sure, humans are attracted to each other for lots of reasons, including physical appearance, but because the story doesn’t reveal a great deal about their past, I felt we’re just being told that Rachel and Ben are meant for each other, rather than being shown it.

Minor niggles however and it all comes good in the end. A wonderful read… can’t wait to get on to Mhairi’s second novel, Here’s Looking At You.

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