10 February 2011

Book Review: You Don't Have To Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning

Neve Slater is a thin girl trapped in a larger girl's body. Despite losing 13 stone, she still can't get into her head the fact she now has a great figure, and is convinced that no man will ever find her attractive. No man except her beloved William of course. He lives in America but is returning home soon and Neve can't wait to surprise him with her new look. However, she realises she has no experience in relationships at all, and together with sister Celia sets about getting some. She meets Celia's editor Max, a man Neve is convinced wouldn't look twice at her. But when he appears interested, Neve decides to use him for practice for her upcoming relationship with William. But when Neve starts to develop deeper feelings for Max, is she going to cut and run or stick out her "pancake relationship" permanently?

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.

Rating: 3/5


  1. Despite the review being positive and negative, I am looking forward to reading this book. I like chole haven't read anything. I'm going to give it a try though :)

  2. I adored this book. Absolutely adored it. Neve has to be one of my most favourite characters in women's contemporary fiction. I think Neve might have started to lose weight for a man (but actually not for William but someone else had an impact - I don't want to give anything away!), but this is because she didn't think she was worth losing weight for herself. Her self esteem was zero. But during the course of the book, with and without the help from Max, she begins to understand that losing weight doesn't make you a different person, you are the same person you were before only more exposed as you don't have the fat to hide behind.

    As I said, I adored it :)

  3. I'm with Helen. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me joins Manning's first adult book, Unsticky, on my favourite chick lit books of all time list and Neve is one of my all-time favourite characters. (And Max is definitely one of the hottest men I've read for a long time.)

  4. Oh Yes, yes, yes - I ADORED this book - so much that I'm really pining for the characters to be back in my life again - definitely on the Read-Again pile and I daredn't even lend it to anybody in case it doesn't come back home - brilliant! (oh, and I think it was written in 3rd, not first person)

  5. I have to completely disagree with the review above. I thought that You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, was an amazing book. I literally couldn't put it down - Neve is an amazing character, and joint with Max, they make an amazing couple. It really is a very good book! Must recommend :)