Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Review: Pretending

By Jami Denison

There’s a joke that straight women like to make when the subject of sexual orientation comes up. It goes something like this: “If being gay was a choice, most women would have chosen it by now.”

Pretending, the U.S. debut of U.K. author Holly Bourne, reminded me of that joke—at least, the first few pages did. These pages are basically a diatribe of how much April, Pretending’s 32-year-old single protagonist, hates men. Once again, she’s been dumped after a fifth date (and sex) by a man who can’t take it when she commits the unforgivable crime of being real. Convinced that what men really want is a combination of Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne’s “cool girl” and the manic pixie dream girl of indie romantic comedies, April reinvents herself as Gretel, a carefree Londoner who doesn’t immediately reply to texts, is too busy to commit to dates, and most importantly, stands up for herself rather than backing down. Gretel attracts the attentions of Joshua, a nice guy who works in IT and who seems to genuinely want a girlfriend. But can April be truthful about who she really is? Or is Joshua the one who’ll end up getting hurt this time?

The opening chapter of Pretending had me laughing out loud, bringing back happy memories of the first Bridget Jones book. But April is not Bridget, and Pretending is a much harder read than Bridget. April works at a charity where she helps rape victims; even more painful, April herself is a rape survivor, having been physically and emotionally abused in a two-year relationship. Her scars from that man go deep, and while there’s never anything graphic or explicit in her recollections, April’s emotional wounds could be triggering for readers in similar situations. 

Even women who haven’t personally experienced such horror will still be reminded of the jerks in their past who stood them up, belittled their feelings, cheated on them, refused to “put a label” on their relationship, and the myriad other ways men make women feel small for wanting to be treated well. There were several times I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room as I remembered all the jerks I dated before I was lucky enough to meet my second husband. I got divorced after 28 years of marriage, and the biggest surprise was that the men were exactly the same as they had been when I was in college. I could understand not wanting to get tied down as a 21-year-old, but the guys pushing sixty, with two divorces under their belts that support huge beer bellies, also eschew commitment to keep playing the field. No wonder women joke about wishing they were gay. 

Perhaps there is a woman out there, one woman, who has been treated like a queen by every man she ever dated. That woman will be able to enjoy Pretending without her stomach twisting into knots during certain scenes. For the rest of us, especially those who are searching for The One, stocking up on multiple copies of this book might be advised. Give a copy to the new man in your life. If he refuses to read it, you’ll know he’s not worth your time. If he reads it and it breaks his heart, you’ll know he’s a keeper. 

Thanks to Harlequin for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Holly Bourne:

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