This book has been out for quite a while, but I chose it for my first review because it reignited my passion for writing. I’d stopped writing Ultraviolet, my previous project, and reading this reminded me of all the things I love about storytelling- compelling characters and an engaging story. This wonderfully honest tale charts bookworm Neve Slater’s journey to become a perfect size ten by the time her true love, William, returns from the US. However, when the devilish Max comes strolling into her life, Neve discovers that true happiness doesn’t come in the form of a slinky size ten dress…
We first meet Neve at an achingly cool Christmas party, which she’s attending courtesy of her younger sister Celia. It’s a far cry from her usually insular existence, where books reign supreme. In an effort to acquaint her sister with the opposite sex, Celia engineers a painfully awkward meeting between Neve and Martyn From The Subs Desk. Since the short conversation revolves around what her favourite words are (bus-station and carbuncle), it’s clear she isn’t a natural flirt! It’s a few moments later, we are treated to our first glimpse of the delicious Max who, it has to be said, was my favourite character throughout the book. Described as a “complete man-slut and not the kind of man to practice light flirtation on”, he’s shown to be the polar opposite to Neve. He’s outgoing and flirtatious, she’s an introvert with no clue about the subtle art of seduction. The chemistry sizzles from the beginning and the reader feels compelled to continue, if only to read more of Max’s acerbically honest one-liners.
Max is, at first, dismissive of Neve and cruelly makes fun of her as she walks to the Tube station. He smacks her on the botttom and says she has “plenty of cushion for the pushing”. At this point, it would be easy to write him off as a typical “arsehole” of romantic fiction, however, when he sees how he’s upset Neve, he goes out of his way to apologise and even gets the train home with her. Neve can’t believe he’s following her and tries to brush him off, but Max is “obviously emotionally tone deaf and can’t sense the ‘kindly-bugger-off’ vibes”. The verbal tennis match that takes place between them gives the reader a chance to see just how perfect they are for each other, if a little mismatched! The evening culminates in them sharing a passionate kiss and there’s a sense that Neve’s journey has well and truly begun. Manning ramps up the passion with sultry vocabulary but maintains a realism about the moment when all Neve can worry about is her firm-control knickers falling down!
Further on in the book, we learn that Neve is a lady with a mission. She wants to be a sexy size ten by the time William, the man she’s loved for years, returns from teaching in California. He’s her Prince Charming- dashing, good-looking, well-educated. Certainly a world away from Max with his “wide-spaced dark eyes” and hair that looks like it could do with a good wash! Neve will stop at nothing to achieve her coveted size ten status, including intense sessions with her blonde-haired trainer Gustav. As she keeps reading William’s letters, there’s an awful sense that she’s setting herself up for a catastrophic fall. After all, this is a chick lit novel and NOBODY is ever this perfect (with the possible exception of Mark Darcy *swoons*)! Part of Neve’s plan is to have a “pancake relationship” so that she knows how to make she and William’s sacred union last forever. After a disastrous and toe-curlingly awful attempt at sleeping with Max, she writes him a letter (yes a letter!) to apologise. What follows is a series of encounters in which Neve reluctantly falls under Max’s spell and he in turn falls for her. Their awkward attempts at dating each other are a pleasure to read. The moments when Max strips back the layers to reveal his vulnerability are truly magical. I challenge any reader not to fall in love with him by the time the book is finished! Neve and Max’s journey from being complete strangers with a love-hate relationship to pancake couple is evident throughout the novel. There are twists and turns aplenty to ensure the reader stays with the story and the host of supporting characters, from New Yorker Yuri to the bitchy Charlotte, add an element of fun to the story and keep the story from being too centred on the two protagonists.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me touches your heart and wraps itself around you like a warm hug on a winter’s night. Sarra Manning’s superb writing has created two loveable characters whom the reader cares about and can relate to. Every woman has a little bit of Neve in them (myself included!) and can relate to what she’s going through. Let’s face it, who DOESN’T want to fit into that size ten dress? The experiences are real, the characters are colourful and the story is just a delight.