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Book Review: Pretending by Holly Bourne

Slight weeklong hiatus, so let’s get cracking!

How many of us heard or read the ‘cool girl’ rant in Gone Girl nodding with a wry smile? 

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl.

“Being the cool girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because cool girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.” Gillian Flynn

I do have a point to make, I was reminded of that construct while reading Pretending by Holly Bourne albeit with a fairly major difference: the main protagonist in Pretending, April, is kind and loving, whereas Amy Dunne in Gone Girl… not.

Pretending is the fourth book I’ve knocked off my chosen TBR, and the second Holly Bourne book I’ve read, I loved it she is becoming a go to author for me! She manages to tackle heavy subjects in a way that it’s frank and informative and avoids being sensationalist.

From the back…

He said he was looking for a ‘partner in crime’ which everyone knows is shorthand for ‘a woman who isn’t real’. 

April is kind, pretty, and relatively normal – yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry. 

If only April could be more like Gretel. 

Gretel is exactly what men want – she’s a Regular Everyday Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door With No Problems. 

The problem is, Gretel isn’t real. And April is now claiming to be her. 

As soon as April starts ‘being’ Gretel, dating becomes much more fun – especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua.

Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?

Most people would be forgiven for going into this expecting a light, fluffy, romance, I certainly did, and I was very wrong, there is so much more to Pretending than that. It is extraordinary, it had me laughing and cringing, it was relatable and dealt with trauma and emotions in an incredibly moving way.

April’s been dating for years, she’s survived a horrific past relationship with her ex-boyfriend but still believes in and wants love, to the point where she’s lowered her standards on occasion. Every time April reveals herself to potential long term partner or feels she can trust them, it doesn’t go to plan…..actually they turn out to be shits.

Driven by an intense anger and a desire to punish men, she comes up with a bat shit crazy idea to exact her revenge, to be the one in control for once. What she doesn’t bank on is Joshua proving her cynicism wrong.

Pretending isn’t a man hating manifesto, Joshua is lovely; what it does is perfectly portray female feelings, April’s words could have been spoken by any number of my friends at some point during their life. Bourne skewers the patriarchy and the idea of how women are meant to behave. And yet it’s ending is balanced, realistic and full of hope.

I felt for April, my heart broke for her as she questioned herself and self-worth. I loved her recovery, the realisation that what had happened to her was not her fault, the way she slowly came back to herself and began to trust again. That her recovery didn’t happen overnight and wasn’t fixed by a man but by her learning to love herself.

I loved her friendships, especially with her best friend Megan, they supported each other, didn’t judge or question, it was unconditional love with an unhealthy obsession with Dawson’s Creek – it kind of reminded me of my best friend and our hungover days with Dawson’s Creek:

“The night turns inky outside, and we watch a teenager with a prominent forehead cry so that we can better forget our own problems”. Holly Bourne

Once again Holly Bourne has managed to show what a safe, trusting relationship is. She’s created authentic characters who are dealing with the messiness of life. 

Yes, there are dark themes in this book, April’s never really dealt with what happened to her or accepted it. It’s an insight into the long-term effects of trauma and abuse of power while remaining hopeful. It is a book filled with humour and warmth and Bourne’s observations are razor sharp.

It isn’t a book exclusively for women, I’d say it’d be of benefit to men too – great read, fantastic writing and characters you’ll remember.

P.S While reading Pretending, I realised that security and reception staff in my office block think I’m called Ellie…..not because I’m cat phishing to get revenge because I’m been using an old pass; over the past two weeks I’ve been greeted with a “morning Ellie” EVERYDAY, I’ve been there two years….I’m just going to have to go with it. FML

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Pretending by Holly Bourne Leave a comment

  1. Great review! I have this one on my kindle but had completely forgotten until I saw your review. Now I know I’ll be picking that one up after I’ve finished my current read 😂


  2. Great review! I’ve read quite a few of Bourne’s book but I haven’t gotten around to this one yet, so I’ll have to check it out. It sounds like a really intense but hopeful read! Thanks for sharing.


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