Posted in book reviews

Pretending – Holly Bourne

WHY BE YOURSELF WHEN YOU CAN BE PERFECT?
‘Perceptive. Hilarious. Reassuring. Brilliant.’ Laura Jane Williams
The highly-anticipated new novel from Holly Bourne, bestselling author of HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW?

He said he was looking for a ‘partner in crime’ which everyone knows is shorthand for ‘a woman who isn’t real’.

April is kind, pretty, and relatively normal – yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry.

If only April could be more like Gretel.

Gretel is exactly what men want – she’s a Regular Everyday Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door With No Problems.

The problem is, Gretel isn’t real. And April is now claiming to be her.

As soon as April starts ‘being’ Gretel, dating becomes much more fun – especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua.

Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?

Pretending isn’t a bad book, but it’s not the greatest either.

Bourne’s novels always discuss important subjects, such as different forms of assault, toxic relationships, mental health struggles, and, to put broadly, feminism. And this is so important. Her novels have opened a wider discourse and conversations with people, offering a new perspective, and has provided an accessible and new space to discuss the trauma, and advise on how to seek help/recognise negative behaviour.

And this novel did that. This novel follows the protagonist April, who works as part of a charity on the front-lines, helping people with their struggles. This can range from helping them dealing with their rape, alcohol abuse, or suicidal thoughts, etc. And while April is working there, she finds herself dealing with the trauma and the effects of when she was raped a few years beforehand.

The novel does a deep dive in to April’s trauma, her coping mechanisms. Part of this is her deep distrust and hatred of men. So April forms the stereotypical, satirical alter ego of ‘Gretel’ who is basically – what she thinks, and what we often see in various forms of media – the mans perfect woman. April thinks if she becomes Gretel, she will be free from being harmed by men: she has the control.

But this isn’t as easy as April thinks it is, and this all pans out throughout the course of the novel. In conversations with herself, her friend, her therapist, her newly met friends at a boxing class for other survivors. While that is all very in-depth, I found the novel to be lacking something…

Originality. I think if this was the first novel of Bourne’s I read, it would get a much higher rating. But to me, this feels like the adult version (or the finalised draft) of Bourne’s YA novel before this, The Places I’ve Cried in Public mixed in with her first adult book (which I dislike), How Do You Like Me Now? They all just feel interchangeable. The characters, the plots, the narrative style and their discourse.

April feels like the same character as the other protagonists in Bourne’s other novels. Very cut-and-paste like. And while this a novel about the female experience, I don’t think it does it justice when every male character in Bourne’s novels are also the same cut and paste dry cardboard characters.

I don’t know how I feel judging this based on her other work, but at the same time, having read the majority of the catalogue I am familiar with Bourne’s writing style and thus have a critical eye and opinion on the development of her writing. That I can’t ignore. Bourne, the more and more I read, just seems like she knows how to write the same characters and stories over and over. . . and that doesn’t insinuate good writing to me. (Basically just copying herself).

So it’s a really hard one, because the message of this book is important, and it has some really great moments that explore issues that all women can (sadly) relate to. But then, I find it lacks putting across the emotion it could have done, due to the not-so-greatly written characters (this novel could’ve had a wonderful supporting ensemble, but Bourne gives them a moment of screen time, tries to make them look *layered* and then moves on) and plot.

So this one is a 3 stars for me. I don’t entirely hate it. It’s decent. But I’m not head over heels for it. Nice idea, poor execution.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for kindly giving me a copy of this novel  in exchange for an honest review. 

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