Book reviews

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I’ve cried while reading this book.

For my first novel by best-selling author, Mhairi McFarlane, this has definitely struck a sentimental chord. If I Never Met You knows how to serve heart-wrenching, visceral pain you’ll feel from start to finish. And not only do you carry this pain with you as you go through the story, but you learn to deal with it, nursing your broken heart in the process, discovering that when faced with life’s most hurtful adversities, you carry on and cope however way you can.

In the story we are introduced to Laurie Watkinson, a successful defense lawyer who was blindsided when her long-term relationship of eighteen years (18!! damn, almost two decades) suddenly comes to an end. One night her boyfriend, Daniel Price, just lays it all out and prompts that they split up. Dan said he is deeply unhappy with his life with Laurie, that he is not where wants to be, that he’s not ready to have children (a decision they’ve long put on hold), that their relationship has run its course and that it is for the best that they break up than remain miserable in each other’s company. Laurie, having no inkling of Dan’s supposed inner woes as he’d effectively stopped sharing his best-kept emotions, contemplates where she’d gone wrong, and hopes that the break up is merely a temporary albeit hasty decision.

Dan moves out of the house ten days after, and Laurie struggles to get herself back together– keeping up pretenses at work, as she and Dan are employed by the same law firm. Being in a serious, long-term relationship, Laurie’s life with Dan is not so easy to untangle. They’re used to functioning as one unit–having each other’s back at home, at work, within their circle of friends. Despite the pain the break up had caused, Laurie knew in her heart that she will take Dan back if ever he changes his mind. It’s never a question of if she takes him back, but when. She loved him too much, and for far too long. Dan is in every part of Laurie’s life, a permanent fixture present in a lot of her most cherished memories.

That is until Dan pays her a visit, two months after leaving the house they’ve shared most of their lives, to give the final, devastating blow. Dan had met someone. Her name is Megan. She’s also a lawyer like Laurie, though working at a rival company. And unlike how Dan first told Laurie he does not want to start a family and have kids, Dan had impregnated Megan. And just right after he moved out. Megan is, as confirmed, two months along. It’s not even three months since they’ve split. I swear, this tidbit leaves an unwanted, bitter taste in my mouth. I’m appalled, scarred, and murderous at this point of the book.

Imagine your bestfriend and lover, who is supposed to know you better than anyone, the one you celebrated milestones with, the one who you weathered life’s scariest storms with, your past-present-and-future combined, turning into a hurtful stranger, an insensitive bastard, who instantaneously throws away your life together, completely disregards how you feel, and ruins every memory you’ve shared. That’s it. Laurie is no match to a child on the way. A blameless, innocent child needs his father, and Laurie, knowing by experience what it’s like to have an absent father, will not be the person who destroys that. She and Dan are over.

I cannot even imagine the depth of hurt and sorrow Laurie is experiencing at this point. Dan took everything–their mutual friends pointed to Laurie’s dedication to her career as a reason for Dan’s infidelity, Dan’s parents are dismissive of their son’s misdeeds as they are excited to become grandparents, their co-workers continue to spread rumors all over but it’s just an endless cycle of pity stares and whispers. It’s unbearable to the point of distress. Which is where Jamie Carter finally comes in.

Jamie, a known ladies man and serial fornicator, is hoping to advance his career to partner in the law firm where he works with Laurie and Dan. His public image does not bode well with his bosses, citing lack of stability and groundedness. The constant change in partners makes Jamie appear to be unable to fully commit himself to the job (which is nowhere true as he works extremely hard and has always proved himself to be a brilliant, talented, young lawyer). One night, Laurie and Jamie got trapped in a faulty office elevator, where they ended up chatting and getting to know one other–fast becoming friends.

Not long after, with Laurie needing to show everyone around her, especially Dan, that she’s moving on just fine, and Jamie requiring to prove his sense of stability and commitment to the job by becoming a one-woman man, the two agree on having a pretend relationship–one that will benefit them both. I know it’s an overused romance trope, but Jamie’s character is very likable. And Laurie clearly needs a friend that will remove her mind off Dan. That Dan’s not worth it. Bleh.

Well, that’s the premise of the story. I feel the need to clarify though. It’s not a lot about Laurie and Jamie transitioning from a fake relationship to a real one–I mean, yes, it’s there and it’s such a good thing to see, but this book goes beyond that. Majority of it is about Laurie coping with her heartbreak, going through her memories with Dan and finding out what went wrong. It’s about Laurie re-learning her life without the shadow of her relationship with Dan. It’s about moving on, employing courage in vulnerable moments. It’s about self-acceptance, taking care of oneself, setting healthy boundaries. It’s about love, it’s about friendships, it’s about family. Really, the book tackles intense, difficult emotions and the story has so many tangents the characters are so complex!

I give this book 4 stars. I’m immediately intrigued when I read the synopsis prior to starting the book. It’s no easy feat to write about pain, especially in this scenario. It’s not like death, with its finality–that’s an entirely different plane altogether. But with heart-stabbing, blood-gushing kind of heartache that offers fresh wounds whenever news of your ex comes up. It’s unescapable unless you’ve finally fully moved on with your life, and accepted that there’s always a risk to be taken when it comes to love and relationships.

Remember that saying by Alfred Lord Tennyson? “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” This is how I’ll cherish this read. By finishing the book, I’ve strongly braved the storms with Laurie, cried with her, laughed with her, found love again with her. In life we stumble and fall, we get bruised and battered, but we cope. And then, we rise again.

  • Title: If I Never Met You
  • Author: Mhairi McFarlane
  • Year published: 2020
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • Total number of pages: 432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-062-95850-1

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