Review of ‘Men I’ve Loved Before’ by Adele Parks

Available from Amazon, although originally published by Headline.  This is the latest of ten books written by Adele, who was formerly at Penguin, but she has just moved to Headline.  The title warns us immediately that we are entering the raunchy world of chicklit, as chick as chick can be.  As I’m not a great fan of chicklit, I’m not the best person to write this review.

The story concerns Natalie, happily married to Neil, enjoying her managerial job in a pharmaceutical company, lots of sex, shopping and a drink-fueled party life in London. Stork carrying baby. Natalie is emphatic that she doesn’t want babies, but – surprise, surprise – at the age of thirty-five Neil’s biological clock doesn’t just tick but strikes very loudly.  Unable to deflect him, even though she clearly ‘wears the trousers’ in their marriage, Natalie contacts most of her ex-es – rather like Rob Gordon in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.  However, the plot comes round full circle when she realises that she parted company from all of them for good reason and that Neil really is her One.   Neil, meanwhile, has become over-chummy with a stripper.  By this time, the reader has come to believe firmly in Natalie and Neil as an item, albeit with a massive elephant in the uxorious living room.   This is the point where the story really takes off – so much more interesting than tired ex-boyfriends.  It was an ambitious plot, tackling a subject close to the hearts of many thirtysomething women.  I did guess how it would end, however, although not perhaps exactly the manner in which the particular ending happened.

Adele contains the novel within six months in time (August to January) and her major characters to a group of six friends, the stripper, Neil’s brother and sister-in-law and Natalie’s mother.   All the characters were distinct and vividly described; you would have no difficulty working out who was speaking or doing, Ali or Jen, Tim or Karl.  However, in places I found some of them to be too over-drawn – too chicklit, too Bridget Jones – to be totally believable.  Neil was the character Adele most got into, weak but driven, and dominated by a stronger woman.  I didn’t warm to mc Natalie; she was cold, self-seeking, managing, used to having her own way and not once during the course of the novel did she show any concern for any other character.   She was supposed to be working in pharmaceuticals because she cared about health in the Third World, but I didn’t feel that Natalie was out to save the world, more that she was motivated by ambition and career.  I believe that Adele wrote Natalie that way deliberately, because her readership want hard, feisty woman.

So, Dear Reader, would I recommend you read ‘Men I Have Loved Before’?  It was a fine example of its genre – lots of sex, relationships, hunky men and partying, but not for me.

(Image from flickr.com)

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