If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If I Never Met You is easily one of my favorite comic novels in a while.* Author Mhairi McFarlane is endlessly witty and deceptively sophisticated, and her sixth book is full of exactly the kind of quotable, wry social observation that I love. My kindle overflows with the highlights to prove it.
The beginning chapters, however, knocked me around a bit. The heroine got knocked down in life, and I felt it. I was embroiled and invested in the story emotionally and in terms of wanting to know what comes next. That’s a testament to the author. But it was a little sadder than I expected or wanted when I started reading, so it took me a while to commit.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I like Mhairi McFarlane’s writing a lot. I’ve ready all but one of her previous books. And even so, this book turned out to be so much more than I expected: smart, funny, poignant, thoughtful and thought provoking, and just a little heartbreaking at first. At the center of it all is Laurie, a biracial woman in her mid-thirties reeling from the dissolution of a long term relationship with a man she’s been with her entire adult life and thought was the love of her life. Making matters worse, her ex is also a colleague at her law firm, and the whole office is abuzz with their news. In the wake of that breakup Laurie strikes up a friendship with Jamie, a slightly younger coworker who’s having his own relationship issues and they enter into a face-saving fake dating arrangement they hope will benefit both their reputations. Laurie’s feeling more than a little bruised. She wants to rid herself of the stink of rejection and maybe get her own back at Deceitful Dan (her ex), and Jamie wants to be taken more seriously and play down his playboy rep. With all three parties being attorneys at the same law firm, things get complicated and contentious very quickly.
What makes the book really special is that it adeptly and authentically engages with the issues around race and gender that Laurie would face as a woman of Afro Caribbean heritage in predominantly white male environments. McFarlane excels at depicting how Laurie navigates the world and the breadth and depth of all different types of love in her life. Platonic love in friendship is particularly important. Mhairi McFarlane tackles the social complexities with insight, sensitivity and humor and still never loses sight of the romance.
As an woman of Afro Caribbean heritage these subjects are all too real and personal for me, and I was not sure what to expect, so it was wonderful to see how well McFarlane handled these aspects of the story while still making me swoon. The hero, Jamie, gets better and better as we get to know him. But I wouldn’t consider this a story about a reformed rake. He’s not an alpha, or a beta. Or a cinnamon roll hero full of gooey goodness. The truth is more complex. He’s human. And that’s what makes it work. Highly, highly recommend.
*Disclosure: I received an advanced review copy of this via Edelweiss and I’m so glad I did. These are my wholly honest unexpurgated thoughts.
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