10 February 2011
Book Review: You Don't Have To Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning
I haven't read anything by author Sarra Manning so far, You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is Manning's second adult novel following 'Unsticky', but she has also written a host of teen novels too. The cover of this book isn't exactly my thing - I far prefer the supermarket versions with the petals which you can see here, but of course I tried not to judge the book by its cover as we're always told not to do! I was a little unsure about the book's premise - is it right in this day and age to be writing about women changing their figures just to make men fall in love with them? Either way, I hoped Manning had a trump card up her sleeve with this book and sat down to read the 500+ page novel.
The character of Neve is our leading lady. I have to say while I liked Neve at the beginning of the book, I found myself disliking her more and more as the book progressed. She was absolutely fixated with her weight and her appearance, to the point where it became incredibly irritating to hear her harp on about it although its made clear by the narrative she is far from either of these things. I know myself that when a woman feels bad about herself, nothing is going to change her mind, even if she really did look like Claudia Schiffer, but for some reason with Neve I found myself much like Max - getting irritated and impatient with her. I think this therefore put my mind in a negative thought throughout the book - lack of sympathy for the lead character is always a problem for the likeability overall.
The other characters were much more pleasing to me. One of my favourites was Celia, Neve's younger sister. She's slightly mad, loving her funky fashion and not really having any responsibilities, but she was such a welcome change from Neve's constant diatribe that I really enjoyed everytime she popped up in a scene. Likewise Max. He was clearly written to be the boy we all love to hate, but I found myself liking him despite this. I could see his predatory side wasn't particularly good, but when he was with Neve, he was very different and I loathed Neve for how she was treating Max. I was actually wishing Max would just tell Neve to shut up sometimes, I was egging him on in my mind anyway! The final character, and one I disliked again, was William. I couldn't stand his arrogant letters to Neve, and could see how the whole thing was going to end up immediately, there was no surprise element there at all for me.
While it might sound like there was nothing I liked about the book thus far, that isn't true. I thought the book itself was well written. The narrative from Neve's perspective was easy to read, and Manning's first person narrative was enjoyable, albeit annoying at times when she is being self-deprecating. The story itself was good - I could see how it was going to end up, but I liked the journey it took to get there. I did find it a little slow at first and I found it hard to get into the book initially, but once I was around 1/3 of the way in, it did pick up and I really did start to enjoy the pace of the book and the story itself. I especially loved Manning's brief detour into the world of WAG's with Neve, this was humorous and enjoyable and a nice change from Neve's day to day life as an archivist.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, but I do have reservations about it. I did find the whole plot line of losing weight to impress a guy a bit too shallow - I certainly expect more from today's chick lit and I was a bit surprised to see Manning go down this route. I believe Neve was written to be a sympathetic character, but I just couldn't feel sorry for her at all. She was too negative all the time for me, and it grate on my nerves, to the point where I didn't want to pick the book up at times. There are a couple of other storylines in there that were very well done, especially the one with Neve and her sister-in-law Charlotte, but the one between Neve, Max and William just seemed a bit trite to me, and I wonder whether Manning missed the mark with this one. The writing is good, the plot was at times good also but my problem with the basic premise of the book still stands, as did my dislike of the main character Neve.