Sunday 8 December 2013

Here's Looking At You by Mhairi McFarlane

Anna Alessi – history expert, possessor of a lot of hair and an occasionally filthy mouth – seeks nice man for intelligent conversation and Mills & Boon moments. 
Despite the oddballs that keep turning up on her dates, Anna couldn’t be happier. As a 30-something with a job she loves, life has turned out better than she dared dream. 
However, things weren’t always this way, and her years spent as the ‘Italian Galleon’ of an East London comprehensive are ones she’d rather forget. 
So when James Fraser – the architect of Anna’s final humiliation at school – walks back into her life, her world is turned upside down. But James seems a changed man. Polite. Mature. Funny, even. 
People can change, right? So why does Anna feel like she’s a fool to trust him?

Here's Looking At You is the second novel from Mhairi McFarlane and was published by Avon Books on 5 December.   I reviewed her first book You Had Me At Hello back in January of this year.

Anna Alessi seems to have it all.  She's beautiful, she has gorgeous hair, she has a great job and good friends.  Yes, she'd like to find 'the one', but she's having fun trying to find him.

Anna Alessi used to be known as Aureliana.   Aureliana was fat, she was bullied, she had no friends, she was unhappy.  Aureliana suffered a humiliating 'Carrie' moment (as in the Stephen King story!) during 'Mock Rock' - a musical performance on the last day of school.    So humiliating that she has never forgotten the hurt, she's kept it stored inside her, and despite her hard work and her transformation, she can never quite believe that she is no longer that downtrodden girl who thought that her world was ending when James Fraser and his pals treated her so badly.

When Anna and James cross paths in a purely professional way, it is all Anna can do to actually look at him. let alone work with him.  Despite this, there does seem to be something of a spark and Anna finds herself beginning to question everything that she has believed for so many years.

Once again, Mhairi McFarlane introduces the reader to a cast of amazingly well created characters. Characters who are recognisable, they are so authentic.  Anna has a air of vulnerability about her, she's intelligent and bright, she's incredibly funny and witty, yet the reader knows that deep down she hurts.  James Fraser is one of those good looking guys who seems to have the world at his feet.  You know the type - can pull off wearing an old-man cardigan so well that every guy who sees him will rush out to buy one straight away.  The kind of guy who everyone wants to be seen with, the one that women melt in front of.  Despite this, and despite the fact that the reader knows just what James did to Anna (Aureliana) many years ago, we can't help but fall in love with him.   James surrounds himself with  bunch of poseurs and idiots who are just too cool for school, and Lawrence!  Lawrence and James have been best mates since school.  He is a pig!  An utter bastard with no morals and no compassion and I hated him, just hated him.

Despite the humour and the fun, Here's Looking At You deals with the very serious subject of bullying, and its aftermath.  The author has expertly portrayed just how bullying behaviour can cause long-term damage. The writing is sensitive and flows effortlessly.

Mhairi McFarlane has proved that she's an adept and engaging writer with this novel.  The story is perfectly balanced and the characters are just wonderful.  The dry humour does not take away from the emotional subject matter, but adds another layer to what is a very enjoyable read.

I won my copy of Here's Looking At You in a competition on the Avon Books Facebook page.

Mhairi was born in Scotland in 1976 and has been explaining how to pronounce her name ever since. (With a 'V', not an 'M'. Yes, that's us crazy Celts for you).
She is based in Nottingham where she used to be a local journalist and now she's a freelance writer and sometime-blogger, which we all know is code for messing about on Twitter.
She likes drinking wine, eating food and obtaining clothes; all the impressive hobbies. Her best anecdotes involve dislocating her elbow tripping over a briefcase and a very bad flight to New York. She lives with a man and a cat.
Follow Mhairi on Twitter @MhairiMcF

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