‘Before You Say I Do’ by Clare Lydon

#TBRChallenge hosted by Wendy @The Misadventures of Super Librarian

Another month, another fresh load of hell for us all to deal with. Next in the list of ‘things I shouldn’t have to feel fucking nostalgic about but do all the same’, after going outside and not panicking about post-Brexit food shortages, is ‘seeing the appropriate amount of Nazi salutes, i.e. zero’ on a daily basis. So that’s just great. Thank you so much, universe.

I hope you’re all staying safe and are able to find something positive in this difficult time. Personally I’ve been struggling for a while and while this month should have represented some progress with the coronavirus – as we’re expanding our ‘bubbles’ and reopening parts of the country – seeing counterprotestors take to the streets in favour of racism (oh, okay, “protecting memorials for British war heroes”… by performing Nazi salutes around them or pissing on them, apparently. No one ever said the pro-racists were smart.) and the latest update about gender self-ID has a lot of my trans* friends worried about getting caught in the Catch-22 where the government will no longer allow them to use the correct toilet but also requires them to “live fully” as their gender, including using the correct toilet, before they are allowed to complete their transition. There’s just so much bad news coming from unexpected angles that I don’t know how to keep up any more.

It all kind of came to a head yesterday when I had a horrible sobbing meltdown over something incredibly minor, because so many horrible things all seemed to be happening at once. That said, I am lucky in that I’ve been working throughout this pandemic, no furlough or layoffs, so I’ve bought some extra food to donate to my local food bank and donated to a few different charities doing some good work with BAME and/or LGBT youth in the area, which is making me feel a little better. I’m not in any more control than I had been, obviously, but I feel a bit less shit about it. So that’s something.

I picked what I thought would be a sweet and fluffy lesbian romance book – ‘Before You Say I Do’ by Claire Lydon – to fulfil this month’s theme of ‘getaway’. It works on two fronts: most of the action takes place in Cannes, where the high-flying project manager Abby Porter has her hen-do with professional bridesmaid Jordan, and because Abby – naturally – runs away from her own wedding to Marcus in order to be with Jordan. I don’t normally enjoy ‘cheating’ plots in romance novels unless they really lean into it – angst over the feelings for someone else, feel that twist of temptation and guilt over the slightest touch, springing apart at several near-discoveries and having to keep lying to everyone to hide it until it all comes to an explosive head.

I don’t mind cheating as a plot point! I just enjoy it more when I actually feel like the characters feel bad, rather than the (more common than I like, to be honest) version that you see in a lot of f/f novels where the cheating partner is justified because their partner is horrible and also a man, and they break up without any particular ill-feeling and it’s all fine because now she can live her ideal sexually-liberated life with another woman. Which, sure, self-discovery is great! Still not OK to cheat on your husband.

(But if you are going to do it, at least make the guilt fun, by which I mean positively torturous).

Lydon flirts with the feelings of guilt and repression and “oh no we shouldn’t do this”, but I find the actual ending – where Jordan and Abby declare their mutual love on Abby’s wedding day – a little too quickly resolved, and while both characters are certainly aware that they shouldn’t be having an affair, the book doesn’t really linger over how wracked with guilt they are or how much they are fighting against their mutual attraction. That’s the best part of fictional infidelity! If it doesn’t feel wrong and horrible, and if the marriage doesn’t pose a serious stumbling block, you might as well just have two single people meet and fall in love!

That said, I enjoyed the concept. As a “professional bridesmaid”, Jordan pretends to be her clients’ long lost best friends in order to take on a number of bridesmaid duties (planning the hen do, wrangling mother-in-laws, herding all the other bridesmaids along…) while Abby is professionally unfilfilled and looking forward to the next step in her relationship with Marcus, despite the nagging feeling that she is only doing this because it is the easy choice. Jordan is initially hired to help Abby manage the stress of organising a wedding only for the two to realise that there is a mutual attraction, and Abby to confront the feeling that she hasn’t been happy with the direction of her life for some time.

Long story short, they have a bit of ‘will they, won’t they’ then shag in the loo on board the plane taking them back from Abby’s hen do. There’s a bit of guilt but I don’t feel hugely sorry for Marcus because he feels a little bland, someone who mainly exists as a foil to Jordan – the man who doesn’t know or care enough to meet Abby’s needs, versus the professional bridesmaid who goes above and beyond to do just that. It’s not that it’s bad, I just feel a little tired by this pattern I see in a lot of f/f where the male partner is oblivious or inadequate and the woman his girlfriend/fiancee/wife has the affair with is just effortlessly perfect. It doesn’t feel like either of the women have to change or do any work to be better for one another, and those are the romance novels I love the best.

I was thinking about ‘Nothing To Lose’, by the same author, when I was reading this and wondering why I enjoyed Nothing To Lose so much more. I think the difference is that there felt like there was a real change in the way the characters perceived one another and changed their views, and their eventual getting-together felt very much earned and very much a celebration of all the best things about people and community. In ‘Before You Say I Do’, Abby and Jordan both realise very quickly that they are unhappy about some parts of their life and then need to make very few changes before they get together.

It’s nice, it’s sweet enough and the sex scene is reasonably hot, but I find myself a little disappointed it didn’t take the opportunity to just turn the melodrama all the way up to 11. Instead, it’s a perfectly fine story but not one that I was exactly on the edge of my seat to find out the ending for.

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