Sunday, 15 September 2013

You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane

Publication date: 6th December 2012

Published by: Avon

Genre: Contemporary Romance / Humour

If you are a fan of David Nicholl’s One Day, then I can (almost) guarantee that you will like You Had Me at Hello.  Not only is it similar, I would argue that McFarlane was influenced by One Day when she wrote it.  Aside from the premise, the synopsis starts with “Rachel and Ben.  Ben and Rachel…”, which is a One Day reference.  That said, this is not a fan fictional carbon copy of OD.  On the contrary, it is very much its own story while paying homage.  Also, You Had Me at Hello is as well written and equally enjoyable as Nicholl's novel.

The premise is this: boy meets girl and they become friends.  Their feelings for each other develop into something stronger but, for one reason or another, they are unwilling/unable to take the relationship to another level.

What is so great about it?

1. The Characters
Rachel is a smart and strong female character.  She is also flawed; her behaviour is sometimes questionable and we see this as she carries out her job as a journalist for the local newspaper.  Even so, she is hard not to like.

Ben is the perfect lead protagonist for a romance novel.  Aside from the obvious (the good looks, the charisma, the confidence, blah blah, blah), he comes across as a genuinely decent human being.  Not because Rachel tells us he is but because there is evidence of it throughout the novel.  His back story gives an indication as to why he is the way he is – respectful of the women in his life and honourable.

2. The approach
As much as I hate the term ‘Chick Lit’ (for one thing there is no male equivalent!), I would say this book is for female readers.  I cannot see it appealing to men (unlike One Day which I have witnessed countless men reading) because it focuses heavily on a subject (we probably have Helen Fielding of Bridget Jones' Diary to thank for) that interests women exclusively, i.e. when a woman is on the wrong side of 30 and isn’t married or engaged, nor is there any prospect of her becoming that way in the near future.  While she tries not to panic those around her look on with pity. Helen Fielding's portrayal was perceptive and amusing but ever since BJD, let's face it, there have been countless ‘Chick Lit’ novels that have approached this subject but with female characters that have come across as pathetic and desperate, not to mention vacuous*.  Like BJD, here is a novel that has approached the subject with intelligence and wit.  I would also add wisdom and objectivity.  It looks at the ignore your instincts if it doesn't feel right, so long as he is willing to put a ring on your finger say yes before it’s too late! angle, and it looks at the actually, I am not that desperate.  If It does not feel right and we are not compatible why the hell should I? I’d rather be alone angle.  Most obviously this is shown at the dinner party scene, which is even more nauseating for the 'singleton' than the one in BJD.

3. The Humour
There is a lot of humour  - some real LOL moments.  My favourite being the open air concert/picnic scene.

Verdict: This is 'Chick Lit' with intelligence and wit.

* Rosie Hopkins's Sweetshop of Dreams is a prime example.

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