‘Don't You Forget About Me’ is the latest contemporary romance novel from British author, Mhairi McFarlane.
Another Mhairi McFarlane novel is always cause for celebration, and ‘Don't You Forget About Me’ is no exception. It’s about a young woman called Georgina who has just turned 30, but finds she increasingly can’t ignore all the ways her life keeps sputtering to a stop … it’s probably tied to her Dad’s tragic death when she was a teenager, the high-school sweetheart that got away, and the night that clouded all of her romantic relationships ever after.
But when said high-school sweetheart returns to town, and Georgina finds herself inadvertently working at the pub he and his brother own – she’s both excited and terrified to have him back in her life. Except for the fact that Lucas claims he can’t remember Georgina at all – suddenly Georgina feels robbed of their memories and what he meant to her, but at the same time … maybe this can be a clean-slate for the both of them? Maybe this is a blessing in disguise?
‘Don't You Forget About Me’ has the feel of Jojo Moyes’s ‘Me Before You’ – but only for the fact that both Georgina and Lou Clark are having to confront a traumatic event from their teenage days, that is maybe part of the reason they’ve land-locked themselves to their hometowns. It’s one of the darker backstories McFarlane’s explored in recent books, and I thought she did is exceptionally well. Maybe a little too well for the heart-in-throat, cold-sweat breakout that I shared with Georgina as she confronts this moment from her past. But McFarlane should also be commended for the many types of abuse she highlights; from micro-aggressions to emotional manipulation, financial abuse, weaponized public embarrassment, and outright physical abuse. Everything within is something women will be intimately and tragically familiar with as the tools of abusers – that McFarlane highlights them with the upmost gravitas in this contemporary romance is powerful and satisfying, while also very unsettling.
I also read ‘Don't You Forget About Me’ and felt oddly reminded of ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney, the adult literary juggernaut novel of last year. It’s mostly in the fact that both novels begin back in time by exploring the first romantic relationship of two teenagers, who decide to keep their dalliance a secret from their friends, family and classmates … in both instances; Rooney and McFarlane write the “young adult” portion so beautifully that I actually found myself hoping to stay in that time-period for longer (maybe even the whole book?). They differ of course though, with the leap-ahead; Rooney’s novel becomes about these two people trying to always (and sometimes awkwardly) retrofit themselves around each other’s new adult lives. McFarlane tears the teenagers apart, and the story is of their reunion as adults – when only our protagonist is claiming to remember who and what they were to each other.
This is the crux of McFarlane’s book and the story; as she asks how long we can go on ignoring the big, impacting moments of our lives; the ones that built us up, and tore us down. How long can we go on kidding ourselves, and others – merely by refusing to confront the past?
She delivers so many decisively satisfying sucker-punches in this book; all of which are tied to Georgina slowly building herself back up bit by bit. I will say that I thought we’d get a few more chapters/moments of Georgina and Lucas though (a backstory to Lucas’s dog Keith is given, and tied to a potential other antagonist from his life – but then nothing becomes of it and I got the distinct impression that maybe a whole extra chapter and scenario was oddly axed or forgotten to be added?). It leaves an odd feeling of not having *quite* consumed the whole – like a piece was missing?
But that’s a small complain of an otherwise thoroughly lovely book, from a favourite author. A book that had me weeping in some parts, and laughing hysterically in others – such is life.