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Much Ado About You by Samantha Young


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C

Much Ado About You

by Samantha Young
February 2, 2021 · Berkley
Contemporary RomanceRomance

Content warning: Emotional and physical abuse of a child (off-page but discussed by protagonists), alcoholism and resulting neglect of another child (off-page, but discussed by protagonist), character orphaned by the Bali Tsunami

Much Ado About You is a contemporary romance in what I can only describe as the wish-fulfilment genre. Evie, fresh off an online dating disappointment, ups sticks and moves from Chicago to the tiny village of Alnster in Northumberland, responding to an ad for a tenant who will stay there for a month and run the village bookshop. She quickly befriends most of the village, rescues an adorable dog, falls in love with his very handsome owner, and sets about matchmaking and solving the problems of everyone in the village while creating quirky and adorable book displays in the shop window.

It’s sweet, it’s so relaxed that there were times I would have welcomed some angst, and the story has completely sold me on moving to Northumberland and running a village bookshop.

But I did have a few issues with it.

I’ll start by saying that this was definitely not the book I was expecting from the title. I went in anticipating Beatrice-and-Benedick style sparring between the hero and heroine, but instead we have two people who are drawn to each other from the start and only kept apart by Evie’s determination not to have a romantic relationship with anyone.

The Shakespeare theme comes out in interactions between secondary characters (Viola and Lucian have a Beatrice-and-Benedick meets Romeo-and-Juliet sort of relationship which I would have liked to see more of), in the fairly pervasive matchmaking, and in Evie’s passion for Shakespeare’s works.

Except…

OK, judgy moment from someone who maybe cares a little bit *too* much about Shakespeare (though in my defense, I would argue that if you name your book after a Shakespeare play, people who care too much about Shakespeare are *exactly* the readers you are going to attract). So first, how on earth can Evie be a Shakespeare fan and not have read Much Ado About Nothing before now? This is not an obscure play! It gets performed all the time! There is a completely marvellous Branagh/Thompson movie!

And second, in the very first chapter of the story, Evie thinks she has met her perfect man, a fellow Shakespeare lover. And his favourite Shakespeare comedy is Two Gentlemen of Verona. Total red flag, and I was actually very relieved when he ghosted her in the first chapter, because, no no no no NOOO. Love and a bit with a dog it may well have, but the gender dynamics are dodgy as, even by Shakespeare’s standards, which are not great, OK? I love Shakespeare, but this is not something he does well.

Anyway. I have strong feelings about Shakespeare adaptations, as I have previously demonstrated. And it’s fair to say that it did take me longer than usual to really get into this book, because I kept on waiting for sexually-charged angry banter and not getting it, so please take that disappointment into consideration when trying to figure out whether you will like this book – I think I’d have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been feeling thwarted in my expectations!

Once I got past that, however, there was plenty that I did like. Mostly, I liked Evie’s life in Northumberland. Running a bookshop, going for walks along the beach at lunchtime, hanging out with friends at the pub in the evening, flirting with a cute local, doing a bit of tourist stuff – this was all very well drawn and made me sad that travelling to the UK is well and truly off the agenda for now.

I liked all the little subplots about the secondary characters whose lives Evie was sorting out. There were some fun little stories there, and the side of me that is finding everything in the world a bit much right now quite liked pretending to live in a world where the most complicated and painful of interpersonal issues can be sorted out with a bit of kindhearted meddling and maybe a village fair.

However, my more cynical side felt a little suspicious that every single thing Evie touched worked out well, from romances to escaping an abusive family, to reconciliations after long estrangements. She just blows in from Chicago, and within the space of a few months, she has solved every intractable interpersonal problem in the village. Many of these problems are literally decades in the making, but she somehow has all the answers. It felt like a bit of a saviour narrative – almost a sort of American exceptionalism, in fact: the Enlightened Modern American Woman Rescuing the British from their Emotionally Constipated Ways. And that’s not quite it either – I honestly can’t quite put my finger on why it bugged me, I just knew that I started feeling vaguely insulted on behalf of the people in the village.

The other major issue is the conflict between Evie and Roane, the hero. The book is told in the first person, so we only see Evie’s perspective. This means that we don’t know anything about Roane except what he tells her and what we observe. And he’s gorgeous and hot and kindhearted, but I found myself getting more and more uneasy as the story progressed, because it is clear that he is hiding something from Evie.

And he keeps on and on and on not coming clean about it. He eventually makes a few attempts to tell her, but something always interrupts, and he doesn’t really push to resolve it. I found myself getting more and more tense as their relationship became more and more serious and it became clear that he STILL wasn’t telling her whatever it was.

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I mean, he even managed to get ENGAGED to her without telling her.

The thing itself is very easy to guess and is certainly nothing intrinsically terrible – if it had been revealed earlier, I don’t think it would have caused much of a blip. But the fact that he hid it for that long made it into a trust issue.

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And the fact that he got the entire village to go along with his deception, even after they were engaged, made me particularly uncomfortable.

I didn’t much like how his deceit was resolved. The story does have a strong theme of reconciliation and forgiveness, but in this instance I felt as though the narrative was unfair to Evie, and even verged on gaslighting her.

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After all, she had been meddling with everyone else’s lives, so the fact that everyone in the entire village had been complicit in Roane’s lying to her is reframed as them loving her so much and wanting her to stay, and thus entirely fair and forgivable.

For me, this was a significant problem with the story. I like sweet, low-tension stories where lots of lovely things happen to people. And I like stories where the tension slowly builds and builds and so you have to keep turning the pages faster and faster and wind up joining the Bad Decisions Book Club because you need to know what happens and that everyone is OK.

But I don’t think you can do both those things at the same time. Not without either breaking the tension, or breaking the illusion of peace and tranquility.

Much Ado About You is a book that invites you to leave critical thinking at the door and enter a world of sheer escapism, where you can have all the nice things and be happy and useful and part of a quirky and affectionate community. It’s the literary equivalent of fairy floss – sweet, irresistible, but also insubstantial. And honestly, that’s what makes it fun. There are days when fairy floss is absolutely everything I want from a book.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this book delivers on that fairy-floss promise. To me, the tension of knowing that Roane was lying and that at some point Evie was going to find out and it was all going to go bad meant that I couldn’t relax into the fun silliness of the book – I was too busy bracing for the other shoe to drop. And because I was braced for disaster, the relaxed pace of the story began to feel less peaceful and more frustrating. And I found myself feeling more critical of minor issues that I would probably have cheerfully overlooked if I had been in the happy dream state the book wanted me to be in.

I’m giving this a C. There are a lot of things I like about it, but overall, I don’t think it worked.

Also, never go on a date with someone who thinks Two Gentlemen of Verona is Shakespeare’s best play. It’s not his worst play, but you can do better. Trust me.

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