Who’s That Girl? by Mhairi McFarlane

April 7, 2016 Author Bio, Review 0 ★★★★★

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Who’s That Girl? by Mhairi McFarlaneWho's That Girl by Mhairi McFarlane
Published by Harper Fiction on April 7th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Humour, Romance
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
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five-stars

What’s the one thing you DON’T do at a wedding?

When Edie is caught in a compromising position at her colleagues’ wedding, all the blame falls on her – turns out that personal popularity in the office is not that different from your schooldays. Shamed online and ostracised by everyone she knows, her boss suggests an extended sabbatical – ghostwriting an autobiography for hot new acting talent, Elliot Owen. Easy, right?

Wrong. Banished back to her home town of Nottingham, Edie is not only dealing with a man who probably hasn’t heard the word ‘no’ in a decade, but also suffering an excruciating regression to her teenage years as she moves back in with her widowed father and judgey, layabout sister.

When the world is asking who you are, it’s hard not to question yourself. Who’s that girl? Edie is ready to find out.

review

Reviewed by Kay

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for review*

518 miserable days.
From the 6th of November 2014 all the way until the 7th of April 2016.
2015 – forever to be known as the year that was a depressing, McFarlane free zone.

Ok, so maybe I’m being just a tad dramatic, but ye gods, the wait for the new Mhairi McFarlane novel seems to have been forever! I can therefore only give humongous thanks to the kind people at Harper Collins for providing me with an ARC and putting me out of my Mhairi-less misery a few weeks earlier than I anticipated. So, after all these months, was it worth the wait? Abso-bloody-lutely! With her fourth book, Who’s That Girl?, Mhairi McFarlane has produced another absolute corker of a novel, with all the wit, charm and heart we’ve come to expect from this fabulous author.

Who’s That Girl? is the story of Edie. 35 years old, with inky dark hair, huge, saucer like eyes and a heart-shaped face (I pictured a kind of modern-day Betty Boop, only with shoulder length hair and an iPhone) she’s a fun, popular copywriter who works in the big smoke of London, at a trendy Ad agency. The story begins with our girl attending the wedding of two of her work colleagues. Her plus one for the day being her spectacularly bitchy office pal Louis, who appears, at first glance, to be her fabulously gay BFF. However, life isn’t always quite as it appears on the surface. A point beautifully illustrated when we realise Edie has more of a connection to the groom than just casual work chum. Although not gone as far as a physical love affair, there has clearly been a mental closeness, an intense familiarity that has formed between them, that has caused, Edie at least, to question what it is they have together. Or should that be, had together, as after all, Edie has just witnessed Jack say “I do” to someone else. A fact you could be forgiven for thinking Jack had forgotten when he tracks Edie down in the gardens of the wedding venue later that evening and decides that this day, of all days, would be a perfect time to question their ‘relationship’ and to plant on her their first kiss. An action that would have been surprising and shocking enough in itself, but when it is witnessed by none other than the bride, all hell breaks loose.

 
In the aftermath of the incident, Edie is quickly accused by almost everyone, of being the villain of the piece, so to temporarily remove her from the situation, her very wise boss Richard suggests she takes a job ghost-writing the autobiography of a young, ‘hot right now’ actor, who happens to be currently working in his, and Edie’s, hometown of Nottingham. It’s seems like a smart decision to remove herself from the intense emotional drama that has befallen her in London, but with a difficult family dynamic and a possible spoilt brat actor as book subject matter waiting for her back home in Nottingham, is she just jumping from one explosive frying pan into an equally dramatic fire? And in a world where social media is simply everywhere, can you really ever get far enough away from the haters?

Just as I have with every other Mhairi McFarlane book, I adored this story! Her writing is crisp, witty, funny and just so true to life, that I found myself wanting to highlight every other line when trying to pick my favourite quotes from the book. As with all of Ms McFarlane’s books, there is a tremendous realism to her characters and the situations they find themselves in. The whole phenomenon of social media and how it’s used and abused, is perfectly highlighted in this story. More of that later, but I firstly must talk about some of the superb characters we find in this novel.

Edie is a fabulous lead character for our story. I always think a good way to judge a great lead character is to think if they were real, would you like to be friends with them? Edie isn’t just a character I’d want to be friends with, she feels so familiar to me, that she feels like someone I have been friends with. On the surface, her life seems to be going so well. Living the London life, good job, lots of friends, but is everything quite as rosy as it seems?

“You’re a paradox, gorgeous Edie Thompson. The girl who everyone wanted … and nobody chose.”

 Some may judge Edie for getting too close to a ‘taken’ man, but I’m not one of them. Life isn’t black and white. Sometimes, shades of grey creep into your life and situations occur that in a perfect world, you would have avoided if you could have. But people are fallible, they are not robots. Emotions can cloud our judgements and feelings can creep up on us. I particularly liked that Jack wasn’t written as an absolute arsehole, like some moustache twiddling cad – our girl Edie never would have fallen for that nonsense. Instead, you got the sense that he tuned into something Edie was missing in her life and exploited it. How the light, flirty chats became more of a connection. How he made her feel special, that she ‘got’ him and visa versa, how they formed their little club of two, apparently so tuned into the same unique wavelength. All the time, carefully avoiding any actual commitment or acknowledgement of their growing ‘relationship’. I felt so sad for Edie that after every bombshell that he’d dropped – “we’ve got engaged/bought a house/set a wedding date – how did that happen?” – she’d eventually swallow his shrugging bewilderment of it all, and still go back for more heartache  –

 
“Would she have replied to that first post-honeymoon G-chat? Probably, yes. In a guarded way. She was an addict. Addicts weren’t to be trusted. Addicts lied to everyone, and themselves in particular.”

Being back home in Nottingham certainly brought out more of the real Edith Thompson, especially when she was surrounded by her brilliant old school pals Hannah & Nick. After having their own problems, they were all now back in Nottingham and, as you do with really good, old childhood friends, picking up their friendships as if no time had passed. The relationship dynamic at her family home however, was not so harmonious. The description of the house and family Edie had ‘left behind’ was so vivid, I could immediately picture the messy, book-lined staircase, her shabby old bedroom and the run-down, chaotic, ‘meat free zone’ of a kitchen, that she would try to brighten up on her Christmas visits home, with a hastily bought bunch of M&S flowers –

 “Edie would chuck her flowers in a jug which, in the chaotic tip of a kitchen, was akin to pencilling a beauty spot on a corpse.”

I felt so sorry for her poor Dad, destined to be a perpetual referee between the two warring sisters. Meg, the dread-locked, dungaree wearing, militant vegan, so angry with everything in the world and in particular, at the sister who she feels went off to London and is now embarrassed of her Nottingham roots, that she manages to take offence at any attempt of an olive branch offered by Edie. Still, I must confess, some of their fights and Meg’s snipes at Edie, did really make me giggle.

“Do you want me to bring you anything back from London?’ Edie said, to the room. 

Meg snorted. ‘Penicillin? Culture?”
 
 
“Meg loafed in and did a double take at Edie’s appearance. 
‘What’s going on?’ 
‘I’m going out,’ Edie said. 
‘On the game?”

 
As much as I laughed at the snippy family rows, below the surface we found there was real hurt, misunderstanding and heartbreak. Seeing them finally open up to each other and get what they needed to off their chests, was heart-warming and just a little heartbreaking at the same time. Who would have thought that it would be their eccentric neighbour Margot, that would be the catalyst for the Thompson sisters really communicating again? She was another wonderful side character that was so vividly written, I felt like I could reach out and touch her brittle, back-combed shock of hair and heavy made up face. She may have appeared to be the mad old woman next door, but she maybe gave Edie one of her best pieces of advice –

“You won’t find someone who treats you as you should be treated until you start to believe you are worth the ones you want, the ones who aren’t asking you to do any work. Find the man who appreciates you at your best, not one who confirms your worst suspicions about yourself.”

Other brilliantly written side characters who deserve a special mention are frenemy Louis, Richard, the sort of smart and kind boss we’d all like to have, scrummy Fraser (I’d quite like him to have his own book one day, please Mhairi) and the vile Lucie Maguire, a person I’m sure we all know a version of, who claims to just “tell it as it is” and uses that as an excuse to speak to people with no manners, filter or empathy. Her entire personality was perfectly summed up with these three simple lines –

“She ‘spoke as she found’ (trans: rude); ‘didn’t suffer fools gladly’ (rude to peoples’ faces) and ‘didn’t stand for nonsense’ (very rude to people’s faces).”

An extra special mention must be given to the brilliantly named Archie Puce and his spectacular diva fits! I will never look at a garden gnome again without having a little giggle and his ‘women who broke up The Beatles’ snipes at Edie when he feared she was coming between him and the productivity of his leading man, were priceless and made me laugh out loud! –

“He spotted Edie and visibly blanched. ‘Oh. Hello again, Linda. You and your tambourine are just what our band needs, once again.”

Of course, we must talk about Elliot Owen. The kind of Jon Snow from GoT figure of the Who’s That Girl? world. Impossibly handsome, quick-witted, and TV’s hottest property, he apparently has the world at his feet, so he could, in all honestly, have turned out to be a total, big-headed turd. Happily, he was far from that, but could this heart-throb really have any self-doubt or insecurities? Well delightfully, as I think it made him a more real and rounded character, yes he did have. I thought he was an absolute sweetheart and I loved his character, his interaction with Edie, and how her eyes were opened to the downsides to being mega famous and losing your anonymity. I’ll admit, their relationship did cause me to shout “No! Sort this out!” at my book on several occasions (sadly, fictional characters can’t hear you scream) but ultimately, I was content with where we left them, even if I have to confess, Edie is a much stronger woman than I would be! Their conversations in the book also taught me a fab new word – saudade. How beautifully that sums up an emotion I’m sure most of us have felt at one time or another –

“I notice, when you’re not around. I think the word is ‘saudade’.”

I mentioned at the start of my review how social media, and specifically, it’s darker side, plays an important role in this book There is absolute truth and realism in this story which is summed up perfectly in the very first line –

“Life through a phone is a lie”

So many of us seem to live so much of our lives through the whole social media smoke and mirrors game these days, that at times, it’s hard to spot what’s real anymore. Instagram filters, must have selfie angles, Facebook photos of your perfect family on a perfect day out, all unbelievably happy, rows of glowing white teeth, all grinning at the camera. It is exactly that – unbelievable. For every one good snap we take and are happy to share – the lighting is spot on, the angle is flattering and your double chin isn’t showing – there are probably 30 ‘bad’ ones that we’ve discarded as they don’t quite live up to the image we want to project of ourselves. How many of those ‘perfect’ family days out end up in screaming match, kids crying, parents getting on each other’s nerves? But you would hardly know this from the online image we put out of ourselves, the comments that are made, the hash-tags that we hide behind.

 
Maybe it’s this ‘not quite real façade’ that then leads to the nastiness you can witness on social media. The online bullying. Do we not see other people online as fellow human beings? Put someone in front of a screen and they seem to feel they have the right to be totally rude and obnoxious online and say things to or about others that they would never dream of saying directly to their actual face. Social media, of course, has lots of great qualities, and can bring people together from all across the globe in many wonderful ways, but the rise of the keyboard warrior and of the permanently ‘professionally outraged’, really has brought out the ugly side of some people. People seem to get caught up in a pack mentality and go on the attack, get ‘brave’ in the crowd, often even when the situation they’re commenting on, has nothing directly to do with them. They seem to forget that their nasty comment might be just one too far for the ‘victim’. The straw that breaks that under attack camels back. You wonder sometimes if people really think of the potential emotional damage they could be inflicting –

“Because you’re not real to them, online. You’re abstract. They don’t think you’ll ever see what they wrote, or care if you do. You’re a game. A story. And the more of them there are, the easier it becomes for them. The snowflake doesn’t feel responsible for the avalanche.”

It’s a relevant and important subject that’s covered intelligently and interestingly in this superb book, but please don’t let my highlighting of this subject mislead you as to what this book is all about at its heart or leave you thinking it is any way a ‘downer’ of a story. It’s absolutely not! If you love a great Brit rom-com, that has way more than the average amount of humour, heart and depth to it, Who’s That Girl? is the perfect book for you. Mhairi McFarlane is an author whose books I will always read and reread time and again because they have that something special about them that just connects to the reader. So thank you for another fabulous read Ms McFarlane, I can’t wait for the next one. My new countdown starts from today!

About Mhairi McFarlane

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. Now she’s a freelance writer and sometime-blogger, which we all know is code for pissing 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.

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