Thursday, June 22, 2023

Love Theoretically - Ali Hazelwood

It's been hot (which I hate) and humid (makes me wilt faster than salad leaves right now) with lots of thunderstorms that do not clear the air for long enough. When I've had the energy to do anything outside of work it's mostly been knitting (I know that sounds counterintuitive but I've had a couple of small things I wanted to get finished off and dispatched to their final destination). I've been reading a bit, but not as much as I want to (the heat damn it), and mostly light things.

One of the light things has been Ali Hazelwood's latest 'Love Theoretically', she has another book out in November aimed at the young adult market which I'm also looking forward to. I have a particular affection for Hazelwood - her first book came out when I started working in a bookshop again so I've been able to follow her career as an author from its start. 

I'm not the biggest reader of popular romance, but I do enjoy these books. It's partly the academic settings, which are not romanticized, and are so obviously part of the world Hazelwood inhabits for her day job. The more or less healthy relationships with a focus on consent help and the set of talented scientists who make up her heroines are encouraging too. If these women have made mistakes in their personal lives in the past they're ones I recognise and sympathize with. 

In Love Theoretically, Elsie Hannaway has worked her way through grad school as a fake girlfriend; the sort you hire to go to a wedding with you so you don't look sad and alone and via an agency. The rules and tropes of this sort of romance fascinate me - treading the line between something more or less wholesome for an audience that will include quite a lot of younger tik tok inspired readers and discussing sex work is a fine one. The whole thing is silly but it doesn't matter, for me at least it held together. 

Elsie is good at the fake dating because she's spent her life compartmentalizing to be whatever version of herself a situation most requires. Expectations around how much people do this, especially women, are changing - but as exaggerated as it is here for plot purposes it's also very recognizable. I'm old enough to remember when the concept of bringing yourself to work would have been inconceivable - so much so that extensive tattoos openly on display in the workplace still vaguely shock me. You just wouldn't have got a job with them 15 years ago. 

Having gone from all-male, or male-dominated workplaces in the wine trade I'm still grateful to find myself working mostly with women and to have women who are just ahead of me with perimenopause symptoms in the immediate management structure. There are reasons so many women feel they have to leave the workplace at this point in their lives. All of which is a slightly tangential way of saying that the heroine's issues touch on something worth considering. 

Beyond the details Hazelwood is clearly getting into her stride as a writer - her novels have improved each time. Better characterization and plotting, more compelling characters, and for want of a better word, more heart. They're not serious books, but they are excellent comfort reads and that's exactly what I want right now. 

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