Happy December everybody!
I’ve been featuring a couple of what could loosely be termed ‘heavy reads’ on The Female Scriblerian lately and as much as I love those books, you do have to be in the right mood to read them. Sometimes, however, I’m in the mood for something unashamedly romantic and heart-warming; especially now the nights are longer, and colder. I love nothing better than snuggling up with good romantic fiction at these times they fill a place in my life that Virginia Woolf, however much I love her, never will! Plus I realised I’ve been neglecting my Rainy Day Reads so I thought I’d suggest a sparkly new Rainy Day Read today.
Plus it is always nice to say:
Enter “You Had Me At Hello” by Mhairi McFarlane, what a lovely, fun, nostalgic, change of pace! If you remember my ‘leaving university’ post from a few weeks ago you’ll know why I’ve included nostalgic in the list of descriptors. University plays a large part in “You Had Me At Hello” as it has alternate flashback chapters which gradually bring the reader up to date with Ben and Rachel’s relationship, and why it ended abruptly after university. I really liked how McFarlane described University in these passages, she gets across how much of a false reality it is, Ben and Rachel can escape from their real lives whilst at university, where small worries are magnified simply because there isn’t really anything else to worry about. She also gets across the enormous sense of an ending that surrounds leaving Uni, suddenly everyone realises that they have to grow up a bit and that life, which has been simple, is about to get harder. The fact that Ben and Rachel studied English also added to this sense of nostalgia for me, as their lives seemed to even more closely mirror my experiences! Initially I approached this feeling slightly wistfully, with sighs and a teary eyed “Oh Uni!” but then I became absorbed into the story and it became another reason I could connect with Rachel, and reassuringly showed me I am not alone in missing that part of my life.
I think connecting with the main character is one of the most important factors when reading, don’t you think? You don’t have to love everything about the character, in fact it’s probably preferable that they have some flaws, but you do have to understand them and their motives on some level. When I think back to books I haven’t enjoyed it’s a disconnect between me and the main character that emerges as a common denominator. I don’t have to love and approve of them, but I do have to feel intrigued and connected enough to continue reading. With that said, I had no problems connecting with Rachel!
Rachel bounces off the pages as someone you wouldn’t mind being friends with. She’s witty, fun and has just enough self deprecation to make her seem plausible. She’s made mistakes in her life, and she has regrets but these serve to make her into more of a whole person and certainly helps to explain why she makes some of the choices she does. Even better than her characteristics, however, is that she actually has friends…that she talks to! I don’t know about you, but one of my pet peeves when reading Romantic Fiction is the lack of conversation between anyone but the heroine and hero; it’s one of the consistent flaws in my opinion. So many bad decisions could be avoided if heroines actually had friends/family they could talk to and who would, conversely, talks sense into them when needs be.
So, It was a pleasant change that “You Had Me At Hello” featured Rachel’s friends, Mindy, Caroline and Ivor. They not only conversed with Rachel, but did so frequently. They play an important part in her life and are also prepared to tell her things she doesn’t necessarily want to hear, but needs to (i.e. that she needed to be wary of Ben, because he is married and she needs to think seriously about leaving her boyfriend of 13 years, Rhys). I thought the relationship between Rachel and Caroline, in particular, was nicely drawn. McFarlane was able to capture the relaxed and comfortable nature of long standing friendship in a lovely way, I loved Caroline’s uptight nature and I thought, despite their differences, she was a great fit with Rachel.
Now let’s move on to Ben. Lovely, lovely, Ben! I have to applaud McFarlane for crafting such a plausible (and wonderful) love interest. Yes Ben has been gifted with model good looks and the kind of charisma that would put George Clooney to shame, but he is also adorable and totally human. McFarlane steers clear of smouldering glances and other stock favourites and yet still manages to make Ben the kind of man I’d love to meet; I’m sort of jealous he loves Rachel really. He’s kind without being a wimp, passionate without being a borderline psycho (or total psycho!) and, like Rachel, has enough flaws to make him work.
I loved that the real reason Ben and Rachel work so well and are perfect for each other was because of their shared sense of the ridiculous and their ease around each other. It’s really nice to read a book without a domineering character, instead here we have an equal relationship. Their shared love of sarcasm made for some really witty banter and genuine moments and I’ll admit that I was hoping Ben’s wife Olivia would conveniently disappear for most of the book! It’s testament to McFarlane’s skill that she is able to write a book where the hero is already married to someone else and yet still manage to have enough highs and lows to prevent it from being a non-stop pain train! I think we’ve all been in Rachel’s position at some point- wanting to be with someone who is unavailable, or doesn’t want to be with us. It’s really awful, and it hurts but somehow we can’t bear to tear ourselves way from the situation. It’s a bittersweet feeling we can all probably identify with and one that McFarlane presents really well.
All in all I really enjoyed “You Had Me At Hello” and if I couldn’t quite understand why Rachel had wasted so many years of her life with Rhys I could least understand why he had been attractive to a seventeen year old girl. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone who is looking for a book version of a romcom as it has all the credentials lined up perfectly. This is why I’ve classified it as a Rainy Day Read, that and the fact it even mentions rainy days in the blurb and is set in Manchester, possibly the rainiest of all English cities!
So, all you need is a cold, rainy, winter evening so you can snuggle up under a blanket (or my preferred slanket!) with a cup of tea, something really and totally chocolatey, and this book…what are you waiting for?!
Have you read “You Had Me At Hello”?
Did you enjoy it?
What’s your favourite Rainy Day Read?