IF YOU WERE ME by Sheila O’Flanagan
Details: Reading Group Read
Book received from Headline Review
Through New Books Magazine
“Carlotta O'Keefe is happily engaged, and the wedding plans are coming together. She's clear about her future path, both personally and in her busy career. Maybe Chris doesn't make her heart race every time she sees him, but you can't have that feeling for ever. Can you?
Then, on a trip to Seville, Carlotta runs into Luke Evans. Luke broke her heart so long ago she'd almost convinced herself she'd forgotten him. Now, he's not that boy any more, but an attractive and intriguing man. And he can explain everything that happened way back when. Suddenly Carlotta's not so sure of anything any more.”
This probably wasn’t the book for me. I liked the idea behind the story – two people who’d fallen in love as teenagers before being ruthlessly torn apart, reconnecting almost two decades later – but wasn’t overly impressed with the execution.
While I understand this is the story of Carlotta’s journey I still felt we saw too little of Luke Evans to make the premise believable. I know that first loves leave a lasting impression. I had no issue buying into Carlotta staying mildly obsessed with Luke over the years given the abrupt and unexpected separation years ago and the revelations afterwards. I didn’t even have a problem with her wanting to cancel her marriage because meeting Luke again made her doubt her feelings for her fiancé, Chris. In fact, that made sense. If it takes as little as one accidental meeting with an old flame and one passionate kiss to doubt whether or not you want to marry the man you’re engaged to, you are better off cancelling the whole affair. The only thing I did have a major issue with, was the ease with which she also allows her precious career to fall by the wayside after she meets Luke in Spain for the second time. She doesn’t know anymore about the man he’s become than she did at the start of the book and yet she throws her whole life upside down on the gamble he still resembles the boy she fell in love with as a teenager. It didn’t make sense and didn’t appear to fit the Carlotta I had gotten to know while reading the book.
I thought it was a shame the reader wasn’t given the opportunity to get to know Luke better. It might have been easier to suspend disbelieve and buy Carlotta’s change of heart and life if we’d been given a better idea of who and what exactly Luke was.
The story dragged for me at times. While I get what the author was doing; giving us a blow by blow account of a woman in her thirties reassessing her life and everything she’s held to be true up until then, I got a big bogged down by all the detail at times. In fact, the first 270 or so pages of this book all appear to be an introduction to a dramatic escalation of events. Suddenly everything happens at once, and while Carlotta’s break up with Chris was credible, the sudden implosion of her relationship with her best friend Sive seemed over the top and unrealistic. I guess it made perfect sense from a dramatic – turn the story on its head sort of – point of view, but it didn’t seem to fit the friendship they had until that moment and appeared to come out of nowhere. Just as what Sive did next, didn’t sit right with me and didn’t appear to add anything to the story either.
Anybody reading this review would be forgiven for thinking I didn’t like the book at all. And yet, that isn’t quite right either. As I said, I liked the idea behind the story. I enjoyed watching Carlotta slowly but carefully working out the priorities in her life. If You Were Me is a well written book and very easy to read (although it was equally easy to put down at times). Maybe it is just that I want more interaction between the two characters who will be the happy couple by the end of the book, while I’m reading the story. Or maybe it was just because I didn’t really warm to Carlotta.
Don’t allow my review to put you off. If you’ve read and enjoyed Sheila O’Flanagan books before, you will probably love this one too. If you’re a fan of Irish ‘women’s fiction’ this book will be right up your street. It just wasn’t quite up mine.