One of the main reasons it took me years to come back to reading contemporary romance novels is that it infuriates me when the central premise of the book is based on a woman lapping up clearly abusive behavior from some shitheel whose main feature is his good looks. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, he’s also rich, for an injection of glamour and hopefully some expensive parting gifts for our heroine once she figures out she needs to dump the asshole. With some encouragement from Romancelandia, however, I’d recently discovered the joys of reading Helen Hoang and Alisha Rai, with neither writer promoting that kind of toxicity. But too many of the books I’ve read by other authors since have veered closer and closer to it… and then we come to The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.
So our heroine Lucy Hutton is a 28 year-old doormat with no social life because she’s always picking up the slack for her underlings at the publishing house where she’s executive assistant to the arty boss, Helene. Her nemesis Joshua Templeman is the brooding, regimented executive assistant to the business-side boss, Richard. Lucy and Joshua share an office in front of their bosses’ offices, and for the past two years (I think? Overdrive took the book back, so I can’t look it up) have been quietly feuding, engaging in any number of games of one-upmanship with few clearly defined rules. Mostly it’s a bunch of immature behavior that takes up so much time, it’s a wonder either of them gets any work done at all. Plus, they’ve run to HR complaining about the other on numerous occasions, which makes me feel like they’re actually seriously transgressing against one another and not just playfully joking. When a chance appears at a promotion that would put one in charge of the other, their simmering tension boils over and romance ensues because, as Ms Thorne puts on the very first pages of this book, there’s a fine line between love and hate, which is a line I used to torment a set of romantic nemeses back in grade school but has no business being a maxim by which to conduct adult relationships.
Because nothing of what happens in THG is how healthy adults are supposed to engage with one another! It’s a weird bag of “we’re the only people who can take each other’s shit” which only leads me to believe that they’re both assholes. Lucy is an exhausting bundle of quirks — your stereotypical manic pixie dream girl — who thinks she doesn’t have friends because she’s always working but really doesn’t have friends because she’s awful. Josh is tired of women only wanting him for his body then dumping him because of his shitty personality, like maybe spend half as much time improving your personality as you do at the gym? Good grief, you can read self-help books while on the treadmill or elliptical or stepper even, there’s honestly no excuse. Also, how the fuck is all his stuff so much nicer than Lucy’s?! She can barely afford her tiny apartment and crappy car, but he’s out driving a sports car and living in a super nice place, without, it’s implied, getting any money from his parents (which, honestly, he shouldn’t be considering that he’s a grown-ass man.) How does she not suspect a likely discriminatory pay discrepancy?!
There was also a lot of nice guy and short guy bashing and, worst of all for a romance novel, it wasn’t sexy. Lucy narrates how nice it is to feel smothered by a guy who’s a foot and a half taller than her and built swole, and all I felt was suffocated — like, cool if that’s your kink but it was presented as what every red-blooded girl wants. Ew, no, thank you. The sex is paint by numbers, but hey at least they used a condom the one time (ONE WHOLE TIME!) in this book that they actually do it. Which comes near the end, before a completely ridiculous set piece where she tells off the source of Josh’s misery. And then the book just sorta ends, instead of telling us what happens next with the promotion and with her long-put-off trip home, as if the only worthwhile part of Lucy’s story is how she finally starts banging the hot guy. It’s so bad, and that’s even before you get into the nitty-gritty of how atrociously Josh treats her. We’re expected to feel sorry for him because he’s so hot, but actually shy and with self-esteem issues which, in this bizarro world, are valid excuses for men (and it’s always men) not to try to behave like decent human beings.
Sometimes, I want to shake women, gosh, anyone in a relationship with a dude like this, to not accept being treated like this, as if his precious ego must be elevated and protected more than your physical and emotional well-being. Everyone deserves to be partnered with someone who treats them with kindness, consideration and respect the vast majority of the time — I’m talking at least 90%, not just 55% here. The relationship and its various shenanigans depicted in this book are not healthy, not cute and certainly not funny. Enemies to lovers is such a hard trope to write well: I often think wistfully of Pride & Prejudice and wish people understood that Darcy’s main problem was that he was stuck up, not abusive. Anyway, THG made me angry and I do not foresee that shading over into love any time soon because I’m a grown-up with healthy self-esteem. I kinda feel like I need to go find a good romance novel to cleanse this nonsense out of my brain. Hey, I hear Selena Montgomery writes some good stuff…
Anyway, if you still want to buy this, or see what the fuss is all about, check it out here:
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