REVIEW: Pretending by Holly Bourne

In brief: April is sick of being rejected by men. So she invents Gretel, the perfect woman so she can get the upper hand in a relationship. But Joshua is actually quite nice…

The good: There is a lot more to this story than the above suggests.

The not-so-good: Bear with the first chapters – you’ll find out why April is why she is.

Why I chose it: Sounded like a good holiday read. Thank you to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2020

Pages: 422

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette)

Setting: London, England

Rating: 9 out of 10

I was looking for a book to read that would be light, interesting and a page-turner. With Pretending, I got two out of three but more than I expected – the subject matter is definitely not light but this book is POWERFUL. Holly Bourne writes incredibly well. The voice of April, the main character, is very powerful and emotion. The book almost bleeds emotion into the reader.

Pretending also doesn’t pull any punches from the opening line, ‘I hate men’. Reading the back blurb, the reader would think that is a bit OTT by April. She just can’t find a great guy, that’s all. Not an exclusive problem. But as April starts to tell the reader why she hates men, it starts sinking into place as to why she feels that way. I’m not going to ruin the main storyline, but it is darker than you would expect. Just as April thinks she has found a man who is decent, he does something idiotic or pulls a disappearing act. This time, she has had enough. Men don’t want April; they want a girl who is hard to get. Carefree. Open to everything and up for anything. What they want is a Gretel. So intent on revenge, April decides to go online as Gretel to be the one who has the power in the relationship. Joshua thinks Gretel is great and can’t get enough of her. The problem is April thinks that Joshua is kind of great too – how can April keep Joshua and lose Gretel?

The novel is part wicked fun, normal fun and incredible emotion. April definitely isn’t a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she’s a woman with a history that she can’t quite get past. She does some dumb things and some incredibly good things. At first I thought she was a bit too strong in her hatred of men, but as the reasons as to why were revealed, I could emphasise with her. (Plus, reading a fictional revenge fantasy is pretty fun). The writing is brilliant, getting the balance of emotion, plot and character development just right. Bourne is able to take the reader right into April’s head and view the world as she does. April’s assumptions of people, such as Joshua, were flawed. But being able to see that they are flawed and why, was really satisfying as a reader. It’s a sensitive look at trauma and how the past shapes our futures. The other characters, such as April’s flatmate, friends and colleagues are also well written. They are quirky and unique enough to be memorable without resorting to clichés.

I smashed through this book. I had a Man Booker Prize winning novel and Pretending beside me and I picked up Pretending 95% of the time. It sucks you in to April’s life, warts and all.

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