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I’m a sucker for good first lines and Swinney did not disappoint. “In the evening light, with his head tilted upwards and his eyes emotional, was the time I most wanted to kill my fiancé.” Whoa. This is how you get me to read the next paragraph, page, and accidentally consume the whole book within one day.

Before I start complaining, and complain I will, I want to say one thing – I only complain about books that I either really, really liked, or wanted to really, really like. I really, really liked The Other Side of Love, although billing it as a rom-com or “enemies-to-lovers” is false advertising.

Romance is a very difficult genre to write well. (I tried. I failed.) There are strict rules that have to be followed – if they aren’t, it’s not romance. Helen Hoang’s The Heart Principle, one of my favourite books ever, follows all of them, even though you have to actually know those rules to notice. The Other Side of Love strays from The Big Two. 1) Not just the main character, Victoria, but everyone is cheating on their spouses (unless they have no spouse to cheat on). 2) The “enemy” – Amara – is not an enemy. She’s just unpleasant. But there is no “somewhat-unpleasant-to-lovers” trope, and you have to categorise books somehow.

Victoria is a married gold-digger, same as her friend Sienna. Victoria judges men she’s going to cheat with, or at least lead them on, rather coolly. “I liked my men stylish, understated and filthy rich. Pedro was lucky if he made five thousand a month. That was barely a new-season Chanel bag.” Her latest, Peter, got her a new Chanel bag and a leather jacket, which Sienna approves of, and all Victoria had to do was listen to Peter “drone on about his wife” and promise him a blowjob. Just to clarify, Peter is not Victoria’s husband – that’s Marcus, whom she met on “sugarbabies.com” (click at your own peril). “I thought Marcus was a lot richer when I first met him,” Victoria complains.

Reader, I loved it.

I’m a fan of well-written “unlikable protagonists.” It’s generally forbidden for women to be unlikable. But Victoria is so egotistic and materialistic that I couldn’t not sort of like her. Okay, love her. A slightly sociopathic, post-feminist, shameless Bridget Jones who is only concerned about her actual marriage because a divorce would mean losing access to Marcus’s money? When Amara enters the scene (a club, specifically) together with her husband, who wears an expensive watch, Victoria and Sienna immediately assume that the married couple are here to hook up with other people, while not being swingers. (I think Swinney’s esteem for the holy institution of matrimony is rather low.) And, would you believe it? They might be!

I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but this much you will find out from the 10% sample: Amara and Victoria treat each other with cold unpleasantness. The next day, they meet at a park, where they treat each other with cold unpleasantness. Amara then invites Victoria into her mansion, because apparently she likes rude people, and once Victoria shows up, Amara throws her, fully dressed, into a swimming pool. Charles, Amara’s husband, appears, respectfully ringing the doorbell as he knows his wife likes her privacy when throwing strangers into swimming pools. Obviously, he proceeds to invite Victoria to the couple’s annual yacht holiday, as one does.

I have questions. Why does the yacht holiday happen at all, other than to have a yacht in the book, and why would someone invite a complete stranger and her girlfriend to join? Charles and Amara are desperate to make friends, because they don’t know anybody in London. How does Amara know “a few people” who arrange something impossible to mere millionaires, then? Why would Swinney insist that Kylie Minogue recorded a song called “Spin Me Around?” Why does Victoria trust the mega-rich yacht-owning couple not to dispose of her body in the sea after one of them already pushed her into a swimming pool?

Chekhov’s gun principle is violated so many times. What is the point of Victoria suffering from unexplainable pain for so long until it turns out she has a cyst? What sort of anaesthetic makes a person effectively black out for hours, during which time – right after the surgery – she drops to her knee to [spoiler spoiler]? Why is she so afraid of flying? Why is she allergic to sweet potatoes (chapter 11) and/or regular potatoes (chapter 18), but excited about potential potato mash in chapter 19? There were so many possibilities – a semi-murderous meal, plane crash, brief coma. There were also premonitions, though, and when one of them came to pass I couldn’t breathe for a bit.

Because The Other Side of Love is an immensely enjoyable, engaging read.

Yes, it has flat side characters. Yes, “[character]’s determination to rope [another character] into all things LGBTQIA+” (this is the actual quote) feels rather heavy-handed. But the subversion of romance tropes kept me reading. I genuinely had no idea how the book would end. I devoured it in one sitting – well, technically two, because I had to eat lunch, and Husby insisted on having a conversation like some normal people who are not busy reading The Other Side of Love and JUST got to the bit where [spoiler spoiler].

I don’t know whether I can recommend this book to “real” romance lovers. But if you can get over the cheating gold-diggers and you would actually like to be surprised, The Other Side of Love – with all its weaknesses – is your friend. A book that is structured as a “regular” romance, but kept me in suspense until the last chapter? Give me the sequel.

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