From the BLURB:
What happens when the one that got away comes back? Find out in this sparkling comedy from #1 bestseller, Mhairi McFarlane.
‘Think of the great duos of history. We're just like them.'
‘You mean like Kylie and Jason? Torvill and Dean? Sonny and Cher?'
‘I think you've missed the point, Rachel.'
Rachel and Ben. Ben and Rachel. It was them against the world. Until it all fell apart. It's been a decade since they last spoke, but when Rachel bumps into Ben one rainy day, the years melt away.
They'd been partners in crime and the best of friends. But life has moved on: Ben is married. Rachel is not. Yet in that split second, Rachel feels the old friendship return. And along with it, the broken heart she's never been able to mend.
Hilarious, heartbreaking and everything in between, you'll be hooked from their first ‘hello'.
‘You Had Me At Hello’ was romance author Mhairi McFarlane’s debut novel from 2012. In 2017, McFarlane also wrote an 89-page short story sequel called ‘After Hello’ – which I’ve also rolled into this review …
Okay. So. Clearly I have drunk at the fountain of obsession and am deep-diving into Mhairi McFarlane’s backlist with utmost glee. And everyone I know who originally recommended McFarlane to me, have said that they only love her books in varying increments of A RIDICULOUS AMOUNT – some instil slightly more swoony obsession, but they all get top-marks and it’s only infinitesimal degrees of preference.
Surely not! – I thought – how can someone slam-dunk so consistently? But I’ve just got through my second 24-hour read and so far, McFarlane is two for two. But – I still have slightly more of a preference for my first book of hers I read ‘It’sNot Me, It’s You’ (which – I wonder if it’s like always preferring the Doctor who first introduced you to the series? So it’s always going to be Tennant’s Tenth Doctor for me, regardless how good the newbie’s might be?)
So – ‘You Had Me At Hello’ is about 30-something Rachel who has just broken off her 13-year relationship (and engagement) with Rhys after realising she was settling for “good enough” but the love was depleted. Rachel is getting on with life ‘back on the shelf’ and concentrating on her life as a court-reporter – when her friend Caroline announces that she’s seen ‘English Ben’ from their university days at the local library. This sends Rachel into a tailspin – as ten years ago, Ben was her love that got away … and she’s never got over him.
Against the better judgements of her heart, Rachel orchestrates a ‘bumping into’ Ben that rolls the years back and keeps her on a ‘Sliding Doors’ hamster-wheel of “what if?” thoughts. It gets worse when Ben says he and his wife have moved to Manchester permanently, and the two of them ingratiate Rachel into their group of friends.
This is more of the good stuff from McFarlane, who I am really appreciating as a writer of these sorts of ‘Macbeth’ years of early-30’s for women. Her two protagonists I’ve read so far have had to make big decisions to totally upheave their lives in their 30’s – the point at which they thought everything was settled and they were on the right track to their bright futures (until a spanner is put in their works and they realise they might want to get off these tracks before there’s a crash). It reminds me of my favourite line from Macbeth; "I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er.” Maybe that’s a touch too melodramatic, but it’s the only metaphor I can think of that perfectly captures this “what the F am I doing with my life??!?” moment that I – as a 30-year-old myself – can so utterly relate to and that McFarlane so beautifully winds her words around.
‘You Had Me At Hello’ is this really lovely Jonbar hinge (fancy way of saying ‘Sliding Doors’) romance wherein Rachel is suddenly forced – ten years later – to really examine the “what if?” of following her heart. Some parts of this book strongly reminded me of Australian YA author Laura Buzo’s ‘Holier Than Thou’ from 2012, which is also a book about a school romance-that-never-was niggling at a protagonist and forcing her to examine her life’s decisions (is this also a good time to ask – where’s my new Laura Buzo book already?! I love her, I want new stuff!). But while I had wished at the time that ‘Holier Than Thou’ had been more romantic-upbeat, I was relieved that McFarlane delivered on that aspect.
However. This book – more than ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ – had me worried for our girl heroine and the happily-ever-after romance. I do appreciate that McFarlane keeps her romance readers guessing in a genre that really (should) have foregone conclusions. But in ‘You Had Me At Hello’ I was so worried that protagonist Rachel was going to be stuck between a rock (douchey potential alternate love-interest) and a hard place (married man, true love). And I can’t say I was in as happy a reading place as I was in ‘It’s Not Me’ because I truly was so worried how all this would end …
And on that note – I did say that the best romances, much like fine meals, should leave you hungry for one more mouthful (even if it is just of mushy, syrupy happily-ever-after stuff!). But with ‘You Had Me At Hello’ I’ve gotta say, I was a little worried at where we ended up. I can only thank the reading Gods that I came to this book in 2018, and had the follow-up short-story that was released to dive into straight after – which did answer some of my leftover niggling questions about where we left these characters. In that sense, I don’t think I was quite as … content, with the ending as I wanted to be?
That being said – maybe it’s also because I can still see this particular world that McFarlane has created being opened up yet again? I could 100% see a sequel being written that revisits these characters in yet another stage of their lives?
Because it wasn’t just that Rachel and her romance was so fascinating – but the secondary characters around her too were divine. Best friends Caroline, Mindy and Ivor had interesting storylines themselves and ones I wouldn’t mind following further. Though I will say two more secondary characters – Ben’s wife Olivia and colleague Simon – were less successful for me. They tended toward cliché, whereas I so loved that in ‘It’s Not Me’, nobody played to type and made the story more interesting for it.
Overall – I laughed, I cried, I swooned … I gulped this down in one late-night and early-morning binge and now I’m moving on to yet another of her backlist. I may not have loved this one as much as my first Mhairi McFarlane (but as I said, I think I’ll always have the softest of spots for that introductory first) but I can definitely see how fans of hers find it hard to rank their love and appreciation when it comes down to varying degrees of “VERY MUCH MORE THIS!”