Last week, having begged my work library’s lovely and conciliatory acquisitions staff whose desk was piled way-high with books, to dig out my reservation, I indulged myself in a procrastiread of author Sally Thorne’s debut novel The Hating Game. I deeply enjoyed this gorgeous book and I have lots to say about this book but first, the blurb:
The Hating Game
by Sally Thorne
Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman
Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She’s charming and accommodating and prides herself on being loved by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. Everyone except for coldly efficient, impeccably attired, physically intimidating Joshua Templeman. And the feeling is mutual.
Trapped in a shared office together 40 (OK, 50 or 60) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game. The Mirror Game. The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything—especially when a huge new promotion goes up for the taking.
If Lucy wins this game, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she suddenly having steamy dreams about Joshua, and dressing for work like she’s got a hot date? After a perfectly innocent elevator ride ends with an earth shattering kiss, Lucy starts to wonder whether she’s got Joshua Templeman all wrong.
Maybe Lucy Hutton doesn’t hate Joshua Templeman. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.
So this book plays on the old enemies-to-lovers and office romance tropes. Lucy and Joshua are executive assistants to co-CEOs in their workplace and for over a year have had an animosity game going on. One which has garnered them a reputation in their HR office which means they need to tread carefully with their insults. Joshua is a regimented suit wearer whose only variation are the coloured shirts he wears in a specific order. Lucy is a creative who resists the office uniform and wears her own version by dressing in, and I quote, “Cool Librarian Chic” (I haz things to say about this “look” but I will leave it for another post). The two are competitive and polar opposites to each other resulting in antagonising office relations. Then at the end of one particularly vitriolic and hurtful day, after their usual riling of each other, the two share a hot and heated kiss in the office elevator and the game rules change. The next day they are at a workplace team building exercise where the two end up collaborating and protecting each other and Joshua senses that Lucy is unwell. By the end of the day Lucy is incredibly sick so he takes her home and takes care of her while she gloriously graces the pages of the book with one of the best vomit scenes that I have ever read.
As an aside: Vomit is the new fainting. As 21st century feminists are writing and reading romance fiction, we all know that the 20th century de riguer fainting scene is both stupid and improbable unless the heroine has diabetes or sunstroke. As fainting is now ruled out, the hero cannot show us his caring, loving self by carrying a fainted heroine to the closest bed, bench, sofa or whatever. Instead, in its place, the strength of a hero now is evident by how well he can hold back the hair of a heroine as she is vomiting, he lovingly ensures that she doesn’t get masticated carrot bits in her wispy tendrils that he tucks gently behind her ears as she hurls whilst tingeing the air with acrid bilious smells. The hero does not submit to whatever ails the heroine, the hero is not phased by dealing with her bodily fluid and nor does he ever succumb to feeling nauseous due to being in the presence of spew. No! The hero reveals himself as capable and strong, he shows that he is father-partner material for when they reproduce as he has already shown that he is capable of dealing with their baby when it sicks all over him. But in the meantime, the vomit conquering hero will wipe our heroine’s fevered brow, he will hold her as she gasps and ptaptapta spits, then he will change her sheets giving her fresh crisp new ones which every reader knows will be a 50000 thread count Egyptian number which she finally will fall into for an exhausted and fitful sleep as he gently (and not at all creepily) watches her. Our hero has now seen the heroine at her most vulnerable worst with most of her dignity pooled at the bottom of the bucket she is hugging along with the rest of the expunged contents of her stomach and even so, despite the heroine’s vomit trajectory, none will even fleck his teflon self and most importantly, he will love her even more.
FROM HERE ONWARD THERE ARE BIG TIME SPOILERS:
Joshua is quite alarmed by Lucy’s illness and arranges a house call from his doctor brother. Lucy through her fever hears them arguing about attending his brother’s wedding and we the readers start to get a glimpse into the character of, so far quite distant Joshua. Once Lucy recovers from whatever has ailed her, she becomes more and more taken by Joshua. She turns up at his house and finds a bright, beautifully coloured home. The two watch TV as they hold hands (oh my god this was such a sublimely sexy scene that caught me up in my throat). As the week goes by, the two get on really well, Lucy proclaims that they can have sex but only the one time and she continues in her competition for the new job that they are both vying for. Joshua withholds on the sex pass as he is one that likes to wait for the best time to savour an experience, disliking poorly thought out impulse actions. The weekend comes up and Lucy finds herself as Joshua’s plus one at his brother’s wedding as he needs her for support. There are quite a few complex reasons that he needs her support there but Lucy completely misreads them and causes a slight scene at the wedding (nothing cringeworthy thankfully!). It isn’t until Lucy discovers the truth about Joshua that she realises her own actions have been deeply judgemental of this soft/hard man whose family problems cut to the core of his being. After a glorious night of sex, Lucy does a “save my man” move that I didn’t think was all that necessary (but oh well) and realises that she deeply loves Joshua. However, this was a one-weekend-stand and she doesn’t know how to change the rules on him especially as they are both vying for the same workplace promotion (and now that they have had the sex thing they are also in breach of HR). Thankfully, this is a romance and the ending had both of them revealing to each other their love whilst resolving their workplace dilemma at the same time.
Lucy from the beginning is presented as a “nice” woman. She is smiley and goes out of her way to enamour people to her by asking after their families, baking cakes and constantly giving them extensions on their work deadline (to her own detriment). Throughout this book (and even in the blurb), the reader is told that Lucy is “nice”. She wants a “nice” boy – like the insipid Danny she briefly dates much to Joshua’s dismay, Lucy is deeply hurt when at her first meeting with Joshua Templeman her office nemesis he isn’t instantaneously charmed when she smiles at him which she takes personally. But I didn’t think that Lucy is as nice as she keeps claiming to be. She is desperate to be liked and as much as she outwardly carries her “people-pleasing” persona inwardly (and to Joshua) she is snarky and a tad mean. Lucy also has some hard core body issues. Firstly, her own issues in being petite and small but also in her constant objectification of the (sublimely gorgeous) hero, Joshua. Lucy is conceited, Lucy is mean to people who don not adhere to her aesthetic sensibilities (including juvenile fat-shaming of the co-CEO which coloured her as narrow-minded and mean yet unable to see the faults in her own attitudes to people). Joshua in response to Lucy observing his shirt colours reminds her that
comments about appearance are against the B&G human resources policy.
But Lucy can’t help herself. From comments on Joshua’s shirts, automaton employees, to dreamy admiration of her female boss’s wardrobe, with snarky asides about Joshua’s boss’s clothing “He must shop at Humpty Dumpty’s Big and Small Menswear”. As much as she bent over backwards to please the people who did like her, she is cold and cuts off those who don’t take an instant liking of her. Joshua Templemann is reserved, standoffish, introverted and a hard worker. As we get to know him we realise that he is quite a vulnerable man, one who has not been able to live up to his family’s expectations despite his own success. Lucy doesn’t see any of this except for his standoffishness.
When she discovers that he is carrying around a hot bod she is all over him yet still is unable to see that he is quiet in his ways – possibly because with her he lights up and is comfortable regardless of whether they are fighting or getting on. Lucy is constantly phwoaaaring at his abs and his body and like people all around him, she just constantly judges him by his looks and muscle while failing to see his inner motivations until she spends time with him at his brother’s wedding. And what dreamy inner motivations they are: he loves her. Simply loves her and had she not eventually loved him back then all his actions throughout the book and the backstory would have been creepy and stalkerish but as they do find lurrrve together it passes as beautiful. Outwardly, Joshua is quiet, cynical and subdued, Lucy is bright and friendly but when you get to see their homes, it is Lucy whose home is dull and colourless unlike the vibrancy and prettiness of Joshua’s home (and I just melted at what was at the core of the prettiness of his home).
This story is quite conventionally a romance with its use of well-known tropes – enemies-to-lovers, bring-a-fake-date-to-a-wedding and office-romance. It is written with lilting, songlike words that makes it just delicious and vibrant. Where I usually balk at any book written in the first point of view, I absolutely adored Sally Thorne’s writing and heroine Lucy’s thoughts are funny and sharp and her sense of aesthetics is brilliantly realised in her descriptions of smells and colours. This book is one that looks at opposites and reflections. Where hate is akin to love, where nice is akin to mean, where reflections of self are seen in the colours, sounds, actions and preconceived ideas of what people believe that someone must be. Introversion is not always soft or weak. Amiable and smiling is not always kind and conciliatory. Both friendly and unfriendly people in the workplace can still sit in their homes lonely or alone.
Lucy and Joshua are reflections of one another as well as each other’s opposite. Neither person is perfect. But they are perfect together and for each other. Their banter when they disliked each other continues when they liked each other. The dialogue in this book just sparkles and the sparks of attraction between Lucy and Joshua just explode off the page yet without the too-close detailing of the sex act. The tension between the two is built up beautifully and the humour and pathos of this book is close to no other novels that I have read not only this year but last year too. This is the first book in many years which I have read which I needed to reread within minutes of finishing it. I adored it. I adored the beautiful writing. I adored the bursts of colour that it brought to my mind. And I adored its imperfect heroine and oh my goodness, its imperfect wonderful hero. I highly recommend this book.
I borrowed a copy of this book from a NSW Public Library. However, I will be buying a copy for myself, a copy for ereader and several copies to give to my sisters. This book is a keeper.