Don't You Forget About Me
Don’t You Forget About Me reminded me a lot of Jojo Moyes’s work, especially her book Me Before You. Set in England, it features an underemployed heroine with a close family, an undeserving boyfriend, and who idolizes a specific piece of her wardrobe (this book’s heroine, Georgina Horspool, adores her pink coat in the way that Louisa Clark loved her bumble bee tights). It’s also what I consider a ‘sturdy’ book: each part – writing, characters, and storylines form a collectively enjoyable reading experience.
Georgina Horspool is not living her best life. Fired from her waitressing job in the town she’s hardly ever left, she gets herself a new job bartending at The Wicker, which she finds out is co-owned by Luke McCarthy, her teenage self’s old love. He acts like he doesn’t remember her, and Georgina doesn’t ask why – at first. (If you’re worried this is an amnesia story, it isn’t.) But she’s got more keeping her up at night than just this. Her ex-boyfriend cheated on her and hasn’t learned the meaning of Graceful Exit. Her family is judging her. Then, The Wicker becomes host to “the Share Your Shame writing competition.” Three topics are featured: My Worst Day at Work, My Worst Date, and My Worst Day at School. Georgina enters, and, throughout the story, she works her way through her current professional, romantic, and personal problems while addressing their origins partly through the different topics.
Perhaps one of the greatest compliments I can pay the book is to mention that I eventually stopped taking notes while reading and had to remind myself to start up again 160 pages later. I’d become so absorbed that I ceased to practice my usual reviewer habits. The story follows Georgina as she addresses her emotional and literal past, which is fairly loaded with unresolved issues involving grief about the loss of her father, and the effects of a sexual assault (it should be noted this is dealt with in an explicit scene that some may find uncomfortable).
At one point early in the book, Georgina reflects on how her therapist asked:
“What if it’s not what happened with this boy you regret, it’s you? It’s the you who you left behind.”
This really sums up the book’s relationship to romance: while the events of Georgina’s love life are significant, they are catalysts for the overall story, which is Georgina’s, not Georgina and Luke’s. I will say though, if you’re about to drop this book because you think it isn’t romantic: STOP. It is romantic, and Richard Curtis (of Love Actually and Notting Hill, and who is referenced in the text) would be proud of the end of story payoff. Ms. McFarlane understands how to write an all-in, heart-throbbing monologue.
Georgina wants to be a writer. The dangerous thing about having a writer hero/heroine in any book, especially one like this with a first person PoV, is that you’d better be a strong enough writer to convince the reader that your hero/heroine could be one. Thankfully, Georgina perceives and describes her life in a style that is detailed and amusing, so that when her friend says “you’re a funny writer, you’ve got a way with words” you’re inclined to agree that’s true.
One of the reasons I especially liked this book is that the secondary characters are strong, and the storylines they play into are entertaining and well-developed. Georgina has an atrocious ex-boyfriend, but he isn’t a throw-away character. In fact, his relationship with Georgina becomes an entire plotline as he attempts to win her back while simultaneously bolstering his career as a comedian (and he’s one of the best Love-to-Hate-Him characters I can recall). Georgina’s family is similar. All the characters are nods to stereotypes but at the same time the most interesting and pleasantly nuanced versions of stereotypes: Difficult Mother, Irritating Stepfather, Complicated Sister.
All this said, I did think Georgina-as-author and Don’t You Forget About Me could have used a bit of editing and restructuring. The story starts with a flashback to Georgina and Luke falling in love. Then, after one chapter, it switches to the present and spends over sixty-five pages without Luke, instead setting up Georgina’s employment and romantic situations in chapters that feel rather long. I found this disorienting and felt like I was waiting on the ‘real’ (romantic) story to start, until I realized this was the story. After that though, I settled in.
Ultimately, if you’re in the mood to read something other than genre romance but want to stay in a version of the world that’s founded on values of love and tenderness, I thoroughly recommend Don’t You Forget About Me.