In recent weeks, I have had precious little time for reading while I’ve been sitting the final exams of my degree. But in breaks from studying, I found myself wanting something light and entertaining to do, and I desperately wanted to not be staring at the screen of my laptop. So I turned to Mhairi McFarlane.
Earlier this year I read It’s Not Me It’s You and fell in love with her storytelling, her characters and her humour, so when I spotted a signed copy of her latest, Who’s That Girl? in my local Waterstones I grabbed it straight away.
The book is about Edie, a successful copywriter living in London, who gets caught in a compromising position with the groom at a colleague’s wedding, and as a result moves back to Nottingham to ghostwrite a Hollywood actor’s autobiography. I’m not sure that summary makes a massive amount of sense but I’ve done my best.
One of the things I love about Mhairi’s writing is her protagonists. Both of the two I’ve read have starred funny, spunky women, who misunderstand things and make mistakes, but feel distinctly like real women. The interactions Edie has with her friends are consistently very funny, but the three friends all have distinct voices and senses of humour, but they blend together so that you can see exactly why these characters would gravitate towards each other. My only criticism is that they are all unusually funny, to the point where you think real people just don’t talk like that, but really, I want fictional characters to be wittier than real people.
As well as being laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a poignant book, as Edie works through the emotional complications of moving home and her relationships with her family. It is a romcom, but it’s much more than that implies, and Mhairi writes in a far more nuanced way than that description suggests. Her descriptions in particular vividly render events, often humorously, sometimes poignantly.
It’s also a delight to read as a resident of Nottingham, because it is absolutely set in the real city. If you’re coming to Nottingham for a visit, or moving here as a student any time soon, this book will serve as a handy guide to some of the activities available in the city. The characters spend time in many of my favourite places, including Annie’s Burger Shack, Rock City, the Broadway Cinema and Wollaton Park (N.B. the outdoor film screening they go to at Wollaton is a real event that takes place every August). Mhairi lives in Nottingham, and it shows that she loves her city. Reading a book set in a city that I know so well made me aware of how vividly she rendered Newcastle in It’s Not Me It’s You, and how much of a role location plays in both books. I have both of her previous books, You Had Me At Hello and Here’s Looking At You, and can’t wait to get to them very shortly.