I read this book a little while ago and Neve's story is still present in my head. Her fight against her weight, but especially against herself, hasn't left me since.
When I think about Chick Lit as a genre, I usually picture a couple of blonde fashionistas going shopping and searching for love in a big city (like probably most of the people who don't actually read Chick Lit). So I tend to dismiss those books very easily - you know, with all those pirates, dragons and werewolves books I haven't read why on earth would I read a Chick Lit book?
Well maybe because these books talk about me. Not me me. But me as a person, a woman living in this century (where the existence of dragons and werewolves still hasn't been proven yet). One of the best aspects of the book is how contemporary it feels. Sarra Manning gave Neve's story a context that many people can relate to with themes such as issues to find a decent job, to make friends at work, to get over what happened during your teenage years etc. The atmosphere feels very real and shows how much some people struggle nowadays to find happiness or fulfilment.
Neve is a very realistic and striking character. She is very bright and her job might not be thrilling per se but she enjoys it (to a certain extent) and has some hopes of one day publishing a book. She has been in love with William since University and despite his move to LA. Neve had a little problem with food during her teenage years and became overweight. When William left for America, she set herself the goal of losing all her weight and becoming "perfect" so that William, upon his return, would fall in love with her.
A couple of years later and many pounds less, Neve thinks she is prepared for William's return but her sister Celia reminds her of the tiny issue of Neve's complete inexperience in men. As in complete inexperience. Enters Celia's mad plan to take Neve to her work (fashion magazine!) party and introduce her to some of her colleagues. Little does she know that womaniser Max will be the one chosen by Neve.
The contrast between bookish Neve and ladies' man celebrity journalist Max is striking, but it is what makes their interactions so fascinating. They are worlds' apart in appearance but find some deep-rooted connections. I just love what happened between them as well as being able to see behind the scenes of fashion magazines and the world of celebrities. Sarra Manning - having been a journalist for years - depicts very well this world.
The characterisation in the story is just brilliant. I tweeted Sarra Manning about the realism of Neve's personality, and she told me that she drew a lot of her own experience for this book, qualifying it as her most "me" book. You can read her incredible piece for The Telegraph here where she talks about her transformation.
But describing You Don't Have To Say You Love Me as a book about weight and diet would be too reductive. The book is a coming-of-age story of someone who has always lived in the shadows and about her journey to learn how to love herself.
The explicit sex scenes made me blush down to my toes - note to self: do not read explicit sex scenes in the tube where people read over your shoulder.
I loved how all the characters had very distinctive personalities and how they related to Neve: her father, her sister, her brother's wife (and ex-bully when she was at school), her gym trainer and her friends at work. I liked the story of her attempting to write a book on Lucy Keener and how it interestingly completed the main plot.
The writing is simply gorgeous. Sarra Manning has amazing story-telling skills and I literally couldn't put the book down.
I really loved this book, I found that the characters and the contemporary-feel of the story was fascinating. It is a feel good book in the most realistic way possible (no irrational makeovers or unbelievable male love interests). If you are a fan of Chick Lit, you will love this book, but you might also like it if you are not a fan of the genre!