Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 16 February 2019
After what feels like foreevvvveeeerrrr (ok, I know it’s only just over two and a half years, but honestly, it’s felt like a lifetime!) we FINALLY have a new Mhairi McFarlane book to devour!!! During the long months and years since I read her last book, Who’s That Girl? back in April 2016, I’ve been desperately trying to find other similar books to read to fill the void, but honestly, it is my opinion that there is no one out there that can write rom com like Ms McFarlane. She is the queen of warm, witty banter, super likeable heroines and swoonsome heroes. So, I hear you cry, has she continued her brilliant run with another cracker in the shape of new book Don’t You Forget About Me? Well of course she has, and then some!
The story begins in Sheffield, 2007 with our girl Georgina in sixth form, and rapidly approaching the end of her schooldays. A surprise seat reshuffle during an English class, pairs her with the quiet and somewhat mysterious Lucas, a relative newcomer after recently moving schools from Dublin, and not someone Georgina has previously paid much attention to. All that changes as they get to know each other better against a backdrop of Wuthering Heights discussions, love notes and make out sessions in the local Botanical Gardens. The sixth form prom is meant to be the night they take their secret relationship to the next level, but a mixture of lies, miscommunications and hurt pride instead meant it was the night they parted forever. Or so we thought...
Forward to the present day, and Georgina is in a going-nowhere-fast job at an abomination of an Italian restaurant, has a flakey, self obsessed boyfriend, a patronising, disappointed family and a housemate from hell. Just when she thinks things can’t possibly get any worse, she’s unfairly sacked from the worst restaurant in town and then promptly finds her fella in bed with his PA! When you’re that low, the only way has to be up, and it appears Georgina’s luck could possibly be changing when she gets an unexpected job offer in a beautifully refurbished bar in town, working for the delightful new owner Delvin, who is everything you could want in the perfect boss. That is of course, until she meets his brother and partner in the business, in the familiar shape of tall, dark and handsome Lucas....
Oh this book was a joy! The perfect mixture of laughs, heartbreak and slow burn romance. As always with Mhairi’s female leads, I loved Georgina’s character from the off. I recognised the smart, likeable girl who desperately wanted to get the approval of the ‘cool kids’ in her class, and in doing so, suppressed her own potential in a bid to fit in and be accepted -
“You play down your intelligence to enhance your standing with your peers. There’s a big wide world outside these walls, Georgina Horspool, and exam grades will get you further than their laughter. Pretty faces grow old too, you know.”
Sixth form Lucas too, was adorable from his first introduction. His “I love your laugh. X” note made me pull a silly grin as I thought back to how thrilled I would have been at that age to get that note from a boy I was falling for. I read the whole of the prologue wanting to shout at the screen “Don’t hide him away Georgina!! He’s a good ‘un! Be proud to be with him!” But of course, we all know that some things - not making yourself a target, fitting in with everyone else, doing nothing that could possibly be mocked or ridiculed by classmates - seem so vitally important whilst still a pupil, that you’ll do whatever is necessary, however misguided, to avoid the sniggering and mickey taking. I’m sure we’ve all known a version of Richard Hardy. The supposed cool kid, with an underlying nastiness to many of his ‘witty’ quips. His approval would have felt so necessary if for no other reason than to avoid being the butt of his joke. For the self doubters of the world, acceptance by the ‘in crowd’ is sometimes the validation you feel you need to get by at school. And for all her intellect and natural wit, Georgina certainly falls into that category of not quite believing herself good enough.
When we pick up again with 30 year old Georgina, that self doubt is still bubbling under her surface. ‘Why am I still doing this rubbish job? Am I too old to be still pull off this look? Am I too boring in my relationship? All these negative questions are not helped, her close friends aside, by the people around her, who could hardly be accused of being uplifting or supportive! This little gem of wisdom from Tony, the terrible chef at That’s Amore!, was a typically cutting example -
“Be careful with that heavy make-up as a blonde. One minute you’re punk like Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner, the next you’re Julie Goodyear.”
That said, so much of the That’s Amore! description was hilarious! I could totally picture this hellhole of a restaurant with its disgusting kitchen and equally grubby chef! I cringed along with Georgina at the simpering lengths she had to go to in order to try to balance keeping both kitchen and customer happy -
“It turns out my role is less a waitress, more an apologist for gastronomic terrorism. I’m a mule, shuttling the criminal goods from kitchen to table and acting innocent when questioned.”
“They told me that a free lunch was a perk of my meagre wage, and I soon discovered that’s an up-side like getting a ride on an inflatable slide if your plane crashes”
I swear I could totally picture the congealed muck on the plates she was forced to serve up! As always with a McFarlane book, even the smallest character is perfectly drawn. Tony, fag hanging out of his mouth and wispy mullet sticking out of his chef’s hat, is such a clear image for me, I’m sure I could pick him out of a police line up. It’s always one of the joys in reading this authors work, the total realism of all her characters.
I found the family dynamic particularly rang true. The dysfunctional family unit she grew up in, with unhappy parents constantly fighting and drawing Georgina and her sister into taking sides, I’m sure feels familiar to many of us who grew up with parents at war with each other -
“It was mine and my sister’s responsibility to act as buffer zones and brake pads, and simply to be someone living in their house that they liked”
I found her description of Saturdays out with her Dad and the relationship they had, particularly touching and at times, quite heartbreaking. Now I seem to be painting this book as quite sad and downbeat, but trust me, it’s totally not! However, I think all the best comedy has light and shade, it gives way more depth and becomes a far superior book because of it. But at its heart, this book is a brilliant rom com, and there is plenty of comedy and romance to keep every McFarlane fan happy.
I LOVED Georgina’s friends! What a fab bunch they all were. I was particularly fond of her loveable young workmate Kitty. Her naive innocence made me smile on so many occasions. Her sheer horror at the suggestion she may like to keep a diary in the future was priceless! -
“Oh my God, no one does that, what am I, some sort of Victorian person!’ Kitty says. ‘Yeah, like, I wrote my diary in my big death nightie and, like, ate mutton pie and that. Wrote it with one of those pens that are feathers.’
‘What the hell is a big death nightie?!’ I say, putting aside the fact Kitty called me ancient.
‘Those nighties that ghosts wear and they put old people in. You know. Like in a Muppet’s Christmas Carol.’
‘Hahahhaa. The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. RIP Charles Dickens.’ Devlin says.
‘I know who Charles Dickens is!’
‘Do you? My bad,’ Devlin says.
‘He’s the bear, he tells the story.’
Devlin and I look at each other and hoot and Kitty says, ‘Oh piss off!”
Special mentions must also go to the fabulous Nana Hogg, the gorgeously warm Dev, kind and lovely Mark, narcissist Robin and, although I loathed him, the perfectly drawn, odious little toad Geoffrey. His put downs and sly digs made me furious on Georgina’s behalf, but it’s the mark of brilliant writing that his words can cause such a reaction in the reader -
“Oh for goodness’ sake, your indispensability to some grotty boozer! Yes, I am sure they’ll be scouring Yorkshire trying to find another person with opposable thumbs, capable of placing a glass on a counter top and counting coins. It’ll be like that hunt for a pop star programme. Soda Pop Idol hahaha.”
But back to Lucas *sigh* The older Lucas we met in the book, came across as a darker, moodier version to the affectionate teen we were originally introduced to, but of course, that was for several very good reasons. I found the romance in this book a slightly slower burn than in the authors previous work, but no less glorious because of that. I’d like to assure fans of You Had Me At Hello and It’s Not Me It’s You, that the ‘I wondered if’ speech in this book is right up there with Ben’s declaration in chapter 69 and Adam’s love letter respectively
There were heartbreaking parts to this story as well as the heartwarming. When discussions were finally had about the disastrous prom night, I could have cried I was so sad for all the hurt and pain that was caused, but I’m glad that Georgina finally had clarity about what happened and just who should have carried the blame for that night. As with most situations, talking and being honest is the only way answers can be found, and closure can be achieved.
You may think when reading the books blurb that Don’t You Forget About Me is just a classic second chance romance, but actually for me, it’s much more than that. It’s really a tale about learning to be kinder to yourself. Of not putting yourself down, and not allowing others to do that to you either. It’s a reminder that secrets and lies can fester and eat away at you if you let them and that being honest with yourself and others can prevent so much hurt and confusion. So maybe this new year, we should all try to give ourselves a break. To acknowledge that we are good enough and we are all trying to do our best, and really, that should be good enough, for ourselves and for all those people who claim to care about us.
In Don’t You Forget About Me, Mhairi McFarlane has written another cracker of a story. It’s warm and witty, heartbreaking and uplifting and I loved every word of it. I just have one final request for Ms McFarlane - please, please, PLEASE, don’t leave it so long for the next book!!!