Until recently I considered author Katy Regan to be my friend. We were Marie Claire bloggers at the same time; we also shared the same agent and the same writerly mental health issues. After exchanging a few emails we went on a blind date and got on famously.
In the last couple of weeks, however, it has come to my attention that Katy Regan has written a wonderful, brilliant book that trumps anything I could write. Worse still, it seems that she is releasing it on the same day as I’m releasing mine.
Resultantly I have decided to sever all ties with Katy Regan, or at VERY LEAST challenge her to a proper punch-up somewhere near King’s Cross.
But in the spirit of ‘keep the enemy close’ I’m going to review her book. I’m not a reviewer but in this instance I feel inexorably compelled to write. Damn her. DAMN HER.
So in a nutshell, How We Met is brilliant. Its maturity and insight lifts the book deftly out of the mire of average chicklit and thrusts it into a far loftier realm which is really quite something for a third book. This is not a standard authorial trajectory. I’m jealous and quite cross.
I’m not going to tell you the story of a book like a proper reviewer would because as I said I am not a reviewer, I’m just a jealous peer. I’ve got my own book to write. But do take a look at the plot synopsis (and buy the book) here
In How We Met, Regan (I’m going to call her Regan, partly because I do in real life and partly because you use authors’ surnames in reviews, non?) demonstrates a new voice which is assured, sympathetic and brave. She resists the conventional mores of the genre; rarely forcing dramatic climaxes out of nothing; instead she lets her sharply-drawn characters tell the story in their own time. Which, as in life, is slowly.
The theme of friendship is explored with painful honesty in this novel. Regan spares no expense on the petty skirmishes and deeper fragmentations that long-standing friendship groups inevitably suffer, and, as her characters struggle to stay together in the aftermath of their friend’s death, the reader cannot help but feel grateful for Regan’s honesty: none of the characters are perfect. None of them know what to do. None of them are capable of pulling together the group single-handedly, however hard they try. And all of them fuck up in some way or another. Even the protagonists, who we expect to get it right. They don’t. Repeatedly. And that’s what makes this story so compelling.
The novel’s love story, eked out gently from its long-buried past, was really very moving. That the reader senses quite early on what will happen makes the journey all the more poignant. Feelings long-since stifled are poked and stirred and by the end of the novel there is a strong sense of destiny rather than the forcing-together of two improbable characters that I feel so frequently let down by as a reader.
And the characters. DAMN YOU REGAN! They are a work of pure genius. I think Karen is probably the saddest character I’ve ever read. The emptiness in her life, which she fills with loveless relationships and ebay, really choked me. Her delusional elation in the fight scene is quite devastating. I wanted to hug her, wobbly bosom and all, and get her to a therapist. Mrs Durham, another peripheral character, is frankly outstanding. Her rage and neuroses made me squirm and smile in equal measure.
The main characters – in the friendship group around which the novel revolves – are distinct and yet utterly believable. It’s quite something to create five such different people without resorting to lazy stereotype. Norm, Melody and Anna held my attention from beginning to end, while the protagonists, Mia and Fraser, were heartbreaking in the messiness of their grief and the resultant lowering of their standards. Their misguided relationships and life choices were searingly real and that Regan was brave enough to let them wallow as long as they did in loneliness and confusion is a credit to her. It paid off.
Bah. I’m sick of writing about this book. Just buy it, and have a good proper cry and a laugh and notice how much of your own life this damn thing illuminates. The writing is spot-on and the humour well-judged. It’s basically excellent and deserves to be huge.
Congratulations, Regan. You toad.