All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Here’s Looking At You by Mhairi McFarlane

on January 12, 2018

Here’s Looking At You
Mhairi McFarlane
AVON (Harper Collins)
2013, 432p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In essence it’s an ugly duckling tale. Our heroine Aureliana returns to school after fifteen years for a reunion. School doesn’t hold happy memories for her, as being a roly poly Italian (known as the Italian Galleon), and always armed with a Tupperware full of pungent Mediterranean food, she was bullied incessantly throughout her years there.

Now in her 30s, Aureliana wants to put the past behind her once and for all and face up to the bullies who made her life hell. But she is much-changed from the girl she once was – all curves and because I’m worth it hair – and no one recognises her when she arrives. Losing her bottle, she backs out on her plan for revenge and slinks off, hoping never to be reminded of her years at school again. But fate gets in the way, and after the reunion her path keeps crossing with James – major hunk and Aureliana’s major crush back at school. But alas, as a crony to the bullies, Aureliana to this day believes that his beautiful exterior hides an ugly interior. As they continue to cross paths a love/hate relationship ensues until eventually something shifts, and they both start to discover what the person underneath is really like…

Full of Mhairi’s trademark laugh out loud humour, Here’s Looking At You is a novel about facing your demons and being happy with who you really are.

This is the middle book in my eBook bind up of 3 of Mhairi McFarlane’s backlist, which I purchased after I read Who’s That Girl? I’ve since read one of the 3 in the bind up and absolutely loved it so when I was scrolling through books in my iPad, it jumped out at me that I should read another.

Anna is in her early 30s and works at a university. She’s a historian and although she’s pretty va-va-voom now with an hourglass figure and long hair, in high school she was much heavier. She was relentlessly bullied by most of her peers who gave her horrible nicknames and subjected her to taunts and even physical violence. It seems her entire high school life was a misery culminating in a prank pulled on her by a good looking boy, one of the cool ones. She was completely humiliated and when her school reunion rolls around she goes in order to show people how she’s changed, now she’s not that fat, ugly, frizzy haired girl anymore. Except no one recognises her. Not a single person.

Coincidentally just after that reunion, Anna finds herself working with James, the good looking boy from school. He was her crush and the one who pulled the cruel prank on her. James is still good looking and he has no idea who Anna is. Despite the fact that she resents him for his cruel treatment of her, Anna warms to James’ charm and the two begin to become friends. James is currently separated from his wife and he seems to find comfort and solace in Anna’s friendship and enjoys spending time with her.

I have to admit, I’ve loved both the Mhairi McFarlane books I’ve read previously but I didn’t love this. I liked it, yes. I found it enjoyable, amusing at times, sad at others, frustrating, well written and entertaining. But for me, this wasn’t one of the books that gave me the giddy and gutwrenching feels. I liked Anna, I felt sorry for her. In high school Anna was a true social pariah. She wasn’t like many people, bullied or mocked occasionally by groups of people but still had their few close friends. Even associating with Anna was a death sentence and so everyone avoided her, even those who didn’t actively bully her. She had no friends in school and it seems a miserable, depressing experience culminating in a desperate act. Even now having lost the weight, it’s clear that Anna still has many insecurities and hang ups, she still lacks self confidence and struggles through internet dating without success.

James is a character in two parts for me. I know people do terribly cruel things in their teenage years and it doesn’t mean they should be judged for them for the rest of their lives. Pack mentality is a powerful thing in high school and no one wants to be the target. Far better to be part of the pack than the one that’s being hunted. So yes, he did cruel things but that was sixteen years ago and I was willing to let it go. However current day James also does some pretty stupid and thoughtless things that are mixed in with the kind and considerate things he does. It seems James struggles with who he really is – he has this persona he often seems to use in his work environment and then he has his own personality. He’s a bit of a dill about his marriage break up for most of the book despite what is staring him in the face and he reacts with shallowness that perhaps covers embarrassment and humiliation at a reveal. But he also puts himself out there and attempts to make things right when he realises just how badly he has messed up.

My problem is that I never really felt the chemistry and developing attraction between the two of them and the book never really takes it far enough for me to credibly see them in a relationship. I got the friendship and I thought that was really nice. They did a lot of fun things together, their conversations were interesting and when they weren’t fighting, it was good. Anna’s crush returned in full force apparently but I just didn’t really see it enough. And also, a critical scene in James’ decision about his future occurs partially off page and only vaguely referenced in flashback and I thought it should’ve been better articulated within the book because it should have been a very defining moment for James. A shedding of one thing and acceptance of his true self. For me, the coming of accepting yourself message was okay, but the romance aspect was severely lacking. This is never the primary focus in McFarlane’s books but I think the other two I’ve read perhaps made me expect more from this one and I was quite disappointed not to get it.

There are some really fun modern day Pride & Prejudice references in this and being a huge fan of that, I enjoyed those. They were clever and that aspect was appealing. But this one just didn’t make my heart race for the right outcome, like the other two that I’ve read, which was a bit of a shame.

7/10

Book #9 of 2018

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