British magazine columnist and editor Marianne Kavanagh has just published her second novel, Don’t Get Me Wrong. This witty story is the literary equivalent of a British feel-good film.
Eva and Kim have been looking after each other for a long time. Their father walked out on them and married another woman, and their self-centred mother was never around, eventually upping and leaving for a more glamorous life in France. While the sisters are everything to each other, there is one thing they don’t see eye to eye on: Eva’s close friend Harry.
From the first time she meets him, Kim hates Harry, and in no uncertain terms lets him know this. After all, in her eyes, he is nothing but a smug city banker, with too much money and a flashy Porsche. But he is always there. During their teens he is always around Eva. He is there when they’re visiting their mothering neighbour Christine. When the free-spirited Eva falls pregnant, refusing to name the father of the child, he is there, offering support for Eva. When Eva falls ill, he is still there, getting her to do too much. And then there is Kim, always refusing to see him through the eyes of those around him, who just happen to be quite charmed by him.
Since I first read it in my teens, I have been a Pride and Prejudice fan, and I have enjoyed reading, over the years, the many retellings of this story. Don’t Get me Wrong has been touted as another modern day version of the classic and, while there are similarities – those big shoes, unfortunately, aren’t quite filled. The pride and prejudice in this book seemed to be very one-sided, coming entirely from Kim who, in reality, was just jealous of Harry’s presence in her sister’s life. There wasn’t enough of the battle of wits that I expected and often there was a rather biting edge to Kim’s comments. In fact, rather than proud, Kim was little more than stubborn and difficult, and I felt her a hard protagonist to like.
On the other hand, Harry is so likeable – charming and kind-hearted. As you learn about where he has come from, he becomes even more so. It is vaguely alluded to over the years (for this book spans many) that he has feelings for Kim, but I think these feelings could have been emphasised and a played upon more. I also couldn’t find evidence for why he would have those feelings. The tension felt rather off-balance and it stays like this for much too long. Where was the time given to exploring Kim’s turnaround? But then the tragedy in the tale is the lost time between the characters, the “if only I’d realised sooner” factor.
Kim and Eva’s relationship is a beautiful and very special one and Kavanagh’s portrayal of the bonds of sisterhood is truthful and poignant. The sisters are so incredibly different, but both have become who they are because of the experiences of their past. They are flawed and it is these flawed characters that make this a book worth reading – and they all are, in their own way. Whether you love them or hate them, it is easy to relate to them because they reflect the human condition.
Kavanagh writes well, her dialogue is believable, and she is truly witty. There were moments I wept with laughter (the scene on/in the sofa springs to mind). Izzie, Kim’s friend’s stand-up routines also inject some enjoyable comic relief. There were a few unexpected twists along the way, and there was a tension that carried the reader through.
While a few elements frustrated me no end, this was still a book I couldn’t put down and I truly wanted to see through to the end. So, my recommendation? Read it yourself and you decide.