Book review: Pretending by Holly Bourne

“He said he was looking for a ‘partner in crime’ which everyone knows is shorthand for ‘a woman who isn’t real’.”

Release date: 2nd April 2020

Suitable for ages: Adult

Genre: Romance, contemporary, relationships,

Blurb: April is kind, pretty, and relatively normal – yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry. If only April could be more like Gretel. Gretel is exactly what men want – she’s a Regular Everyday Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door With No Problems. The problem is, Gretel isn’t real. And April is now claiming to be her.As soon as April starts ‘being’ Gretel, dating becomes much more fun – especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua. Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?

Three adjectives: Scathing, perceptive and brilliant

Recommended for fans of: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and This Way Up (Channel 4 programme written by and starring Aisling Bea)

Holly Bourne is known to many as the reigning Queen Of YA, but her status as one of Britain’s seminal writers was sealed with the realise of her adult debut in 2018. ‘How Do You Like Me Now?’ was an examination of societal expectations for women that was as perceptive as it was scathing and bitterly funny. The same can be said for ‘Pretending’, except this book feels even more piercing as Bourne hones in on modern dating. Namely on how shit and god-awful it can be. Protagonist April feels like an every-woman – kind, thoughtful, sweet and caring – yet for the majority of her adult dating life she’s been unable to make it past date 5. Having been let down countless times, and having heartbreaking utter betrayals of the worst order, she endeavours to ignore the dating advice of ‘being herself’. She’s done that and it’s gotten her nowhere. Instead, she decides to be perfect- or at least pretend to be. She alters her information on the dating apps and becomes Gretel – a woman who is perfect and the kind men will deserve and crave in a way they never feel about April.

Gretel is in control and self-assured when it comes to dating, so confident in herself that she’s unshakeable – quickly reeling in the unsuspected Joshua. Except what should have been casual dating quickly becomes more serious. Who is really in control here? And how long can the pretending continue?

This all plays out in such an addictively readable manner, we instantly become invested and desperate to know how everything will play out. Bourne masterfully negotiates and oversees proceedings, with a deceptive lightness of touch, regularly gut punching us with potent wonderings and justified righteous rage. The aching empathy we feel for April, reinforced for many of us fellow singletons by the fact it all feels so bitterly familiar, lasts long after reading.

This is a powerhouse of a novel, a modern classic and treatise of modern dating. The term ‘must-read’ gets banded around all-too frequently, but rarely does it apply as accurately as it does here.

[5/5 stars]

Click to order from Waterstones, Hive or find your nearest indie bookshop here.



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