Recommended Read, Review

Review: If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane (2020)

Heat Factor: Talking about it with girlfriends after

Character Chemistry: Slow burn he’s-into-her-and-she-doesn’t-see-it AMAZINGOSITY

Plot: Laurie is more than just half of Laurie-and-Dan

Overall: Be still my heart

The Eric Clapton Wonderful Tonight reference was a masterful touch. If I hadn’t already been in complete and utter swoon territory, I’m pretty sure I would have sailed right over at that point. Because even if Laurie doesn’t know the lyrics to that song, I sure as hell do. And this, after Laurie realizes her ex was emotionally cheating on her by creating running playlists with his new girlfriend? *chef kiss*

I am in an agony of delight. If I Never Met You pushed so many of my buttons, I cried at one point. Because I readily admit I’m in dangerous gushing territory, I will try to force myself to be pointed about what I liked about this book by making a list:

  • Laurie is five years older than Jamie, who is so hot it hurts. 36-year-old women (plus, plus, plus!) are still desirable. Of course, Laurie is super hot, too. But still!
  • Found family. Sticking around toxic relationships just because of a blood relationship is not required, and people who love you support that. See also: parents are people, too, and they have their own baggage.
  • True love can be found with your best friend, because it’s important to have supportive relationships other than with a lover. 
  • Expectations for women vs. expectations for men both professionally and socially. I might have to jump off the list now. 

I tried. 

Let’s expand a bit. Laurie has been with Dan for 18 years, since they were both 18. They are not married, and they do not have children. This is less about a mutual desire to be in this state and more about a willingness to kick the can down the road. Until one night Laurie comes home and Dan ends things. This sends Laurie, understandably, into a tailspin. Especially when Dan doesn’t initially admit that there’s another woman (with whom he cheated only emotionally, so it’s not really cheating…yeah, Laurie calls him on that, and it’s great). Rationally, intellectually, at the end of the day, we can understand that a relationship can stop working for one or all parties involved, and that it behooves no one to try to make something work that doesn’t. But 18 years of emotional investment and understanding of one’s reality being shattered in a moment isn’t necessarily conducive to “Well then I guess it just wasn’t meant to be, then! I’ll be off!” And McFarlane’s handling of Laurie’s grieving is beautifully well rounded and really extends through the whole story. 

The icing on the cake is that Laurie and Dan are both lawyers at the same firm, although they work in different departments. Now, we have both the setting/reason for Laurie and Jamie to instigate their fake relationship – she’s going to make Dan jealous and Jamie is going to look like he’s settled enough to make partner – AND we have a beautiful, meaty setting for examining humanity. 

In this setting we’re able to examine some chauvinistic behavior on the part of Laurie’s male colleagues: 

There was a giant insult in this. Not only were two men she worked with–one her ex, no less–appointing themselves her guardians, but they had jointly concluded that Laurie and Jamie were so unlikely a couple, she had to be target of a scam. … The way they wouldn’t accord her the same powers of perception they claimed for themselves was infantilizing, it made her feel ludicrous. It was like their sexism was coming in through the air-con units, invisible but utterly pervasive. 

Even though he’s supposed to be the unreliable, selfish player, Jamie is up front about where he stands and what’s important to him, and he always, always treats Laurie with respect and care. Meanwhile, the guys who think Laurie’s being taken advantage of by the player take away her agency by staging an intervention with Jamie from which Laurie is excluded until she barges in on it.

Also in this setting, we get to play with that notion of worthiness. Laurie supported Dan getting a promotion at work because she was fulfilled in her personal life. She sidelined her professional goals because Dan moving up was worth it to her. Jamie is an upstart who hasn’t put in his time and doesn’t deserve to make partner. He’s also not a team player because he kills it at his job and doesn’t cover for colleagues who’ve made mistakes. He’s not worthy of making partner, according to his peers. Laurie is totally fine where she is, even though she’s unequivocally exceptional at her job, as long as she stays in her lane and doesn’t one-up the men. Her worth is based on her keeping her nose down and getting her job done. Laurie wanted to do an exceptional job and be recognized for that and not play politics and other games, which has always been exactly how I’ve felt as a professional woman. Hooray! Office politics are a thing. If you’ve never existed in the law firm world, I can assure you that this is sadly an accurate portrait of that world, broadly speaking. As I’m sure it is in other corporate worlds.

With Jamie and with Laurie’s best friend, Emily, we get to play with some notions of fairness/expectations in gender roles. Laurie goes into her agreement with Jamie with her eyes wide open. Jamie was pretty clear with her about how undesirable he found monogamy and love (because of course he’s the player, not her). As with any fake relationship, it eventually becomes at least some kind of real. One cannot spend time with another person without some kind of relationship developing. But with Laurie navigating her grief plus whatever weird not-friendship-maybe-friendship she’s got with Jamie, she gets a bit awkward, and she doesn’t let Jamie’s player persona go, needling him with it quite a bit, until he snaps at her. 

Jamie turned, frowning. “Why do you have to constantly characterize me like that? How would you feel if I was all ‘lol Laurie with her one boyfriend’?”

Laurie opened her mouth, no justification came out. She felt slightly ashamed. 

“Sorry,” Jamie said, “Sorry. That was morning me and you didn’t deserve that.”

He went for a shower and Laurie sat, hugging her knees. Jamie returned from the shower, dry clothes, wet hair, and said: “Laurie. I’m an unspeakable shit for snapping at you, after everything you’ve done for me. I hate myself right now. Please accept my groveling apology?”

Laurie smiled up at him. “No, you were right.”

It’s really about being a nice person and acknowledging when you’ve hurt someone, right? But women aren’t the only people with feelings…

With respect to Emily, we get to think about why it is that a woman measures herself against some bonkers expectations of what she ought to be, even if she’s amazingly successful and happy with her life, while men don’t necessarily put themselves through those same second-guessings and unattainable high standards. This especially pulls together a line of thought in Laurie’s growth because for a long time after Dan leaves Laurie can’t let go of the notion that she wasn’t enough. But when she has to step up for Emily, she gets to thinking about a lot of the choices she’s made in her life and why. 

This book is not fluffy. It is robust and thoughtful and emotional and romantic. The characters aren’t caricatures. There are tons of delightful pop culture references (see: Clapton). There are laugh out loud moments and tearful moments. I loved it. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar?

Fake relationship is THE BEST trope.

Lawyers finding love

I need lots of suggestions right now! Give me all the contemporary romances!

3 thoughts on “Review: If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane (2020)”

  1. This wasn’t on my radar, but your gushing has convinced me! I appreciated the commentary on office politics—I’ve never experienced it quite that way, having worked in mostly all-female settings (where everyone is content to mostly keep their head down and do the work), but it sounds familiar from what my friends say about their work. Very thoughtful review, I enjoyed reading it. Now I must find a copy of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay! I just read another with the same trope and several other similarities, and it rather brought home how much this book knocks it out of the park. I hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 2 people

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