I found it! I finally found it! A rom com novel that didn’t make me cringe! So many have done it before, and yet I keep coming back to the genre. Reading If I Never Met You, I never once rolled my eyes, sighed or gurned. That’s some serious progress.
Title: If I Never Met You
Author: Mhairi McFarlane
Publication Date: 5th March 2020
If I Never Met You has all the tropes of the rom com – the jilted lead, the steady man, the playboy love interest and the sassy best friend. But the difference here, is that this book had substance. I wouldn’t say that it necessarily inverted any of those tropes, but MacFarlane fleshed them out – there was background, character, motivation. The story was good and the setting was real.
Laurie has been with her partner Dan for eighteen years. They’re the unmarried couple in everyone’s friendship group and are established as forever. That is, until Dan destablises things, leaving Laurie bewildered, lost and searching for answers. A chance meeting in a broken down lift with the office rogue, Jamie Carter, leads to the pair hatching a plan – a chance for Laurie to show Dan what he’s lost, and Jamie to show that he’s stable enough for a promotion. With a few posts on social media, they can get everyone believing that their fake office romance is real.
What made this better than all the rest though, is the weight behind it. Dan’s break-up with Laurie felt real, and there was no prosecco-drinking, let’s-hate-the-bastard moment with the flimsy best friend. Instead, Laurie is logical, pragmatic, broken, hurt and starts to take back control. She finds her own reason why, with the support of a real best friend, who she supports in turn (unlike so many rom com novels where the best gal pals are just a supporting act for the MC).
The bond that Laurie and Jamie form feels comfortable and real – he is attractive, but there’s a lot substance to him than that, and Laurie and Jamie hold their own as their friendship and loyalty to each other develops. This loyalty also means that they defend and protect each other. There are some really heartfelt and touching scenes where their friendship adds strength to each other too – it’s not just about the lust they feel, that in itself is a slow and steady build. They also drop in references to films, music, TV and events into conversation – like real people with real frames of reference!
The law office where they work is a much more interesting environment that then standard PR/Millennial stereotype, and requires a much more serious kind of character. Although with a level of misogyny that was rampantly uncomfortable.
(There are also some “bonus” traumas that are thrown in there for a couple of chapters at a time, however, which add to the backstory but aren’t really dealt with beyond that).
I also loved the setting – Manchester. It is a genuine pleasure to a read a rom com that is not set in London, but is instead set in a realistic city (including real restaurants – I’ve eaten at Rudy’s pizza!) with North West and Midlands links.
Aside from an ending that fell into the rom com trap, whilst trying to give a slightly more feminist twist, this book was everything that I was looking for, and I loved every page.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.