In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll start by saying I’m a huge fan of Holly Bourne’s young adult writing. The Spinster Club series is one of my favourite things in YA, with its all-too-real portrayal of the everyday rigmarole of having to be a teenage girl in a world that isn’t always that kind to teenage girls. With How Do You Like Me Now?, her first foray into adult fiction, Bourne translates all the glorious humour and immense pathos of Amber, Lottie and Evie into the character of Tori, a thirty-something woman with grown-up versions of the problems we’ve seen in Bourne’s other work. And it’s brilliant.
In How Do You Like Me Now?, Bourne presents us with a hugely professionally successful woman; Tori has built her reputation and career in self-help writing thanks in part to her ‘happily ever after’ relationship with Tom. The problem is that Tom is not actually very nice to her and has more interest in the cat than in his girlfriend. I knew this book was working for me when I quickly found myself wanting to counsel Tori myself, so desperate was I for her to improve her situation and stand up for herself. This is what Holly Bourne does; she’s pretty much peerless in terms of writing characters you want to be friends with, despite – or sometimes even because of – their flaws. I think the relationship between Tori and Tom will make many a reader re-evaluate their own relationships (or, in my case, the relationships of other people they know, which is more fun and less alarming on a personal level). The sections devoted to Tori’s friendships are particularly hilarious, especially an ill-advised baby shower and the wedding at which she’s demoted to childless ignominy on the loser table. I could go on for ages listing these moments but that would spoil the book so just trust me when I say it’s awesome.
What I love about Holly Bourne’s writing is her ability to identify a near-universal point and incorporate it seamlessly into her characters’ stories. For example, in her most recent YA novel, It Only Happens in the Movies (which, surprisingly, I loved), there’s a hilarious and meaningful takedown of the “you’re not like other girls” line which is so pertinent that someone actually said it to me three days ago. How Do You Like Me Now? is full of such relatable moments, particularly in relation to the incredibly annoying things people say to unmarried, childless couples in critiquing their unmarried, childless status. Bourne is a genius at recreating such moments with genuine humour; I find it hard to believe that any woman in her thirties could read this book without nodding repeatedly and, on at least three occasions, spilling their tea with the vigorous nature of their “oh my God, that happened to me!” gestures.
After a long time away from Marian Keyes, I recently read her latest novel, The Break, and How Do You Like Me Now? gave me a lot of the same feelings; Holly Bourne shares Keyes’ skill in simultaneously showing the ridiculousness and pain of being a grownup and having to deal with other grownups. Both books made me laugh in that way that makes people in public places slightly scared of you, and both made me not want to be in a public place because quietly weeping over a book in Starbucks is a bit embarrassing. My love of Holly Bourne remains undimmed and I can’t wait to see what she writes next, adult or YA.