Review: 9 Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend, Sarra Manning

This was recommended by a friend, more or less I think because the main character is a primary school teacher.  Also one of the characters has the same name as me but let’s not focus on which one that is.  The point is, I actually did like it and a quick scroll down this blog would tell you that I don’t normally like chick lit.  

The basic plot goes like this, Hope the Primary School Teacher is happily cohabiting with Jack her One and Only, they’ve been together for thirteen years since their early adolescence, having grown up next door to each other and both sets of their parents being best friends, blah blah blah.  However, to Hope’s horror, during a dinner party she stumbles across him kissing her best friend Susie very enthusiastically.  Dun dun DUN! Disaster!  Over the next six months, Hope and Jack are on and off more times than a flipping light bulb.  First of all, Jack and Susie claim it was a one time thing, but thanks to iPhones it later becomes clear that this is far from the case.  As a side note, hats off to Manning for making technology part of her plot – not many authors are brave enough to do this.

Hope was at times a frustrating lead character, she was rather shouty (understandably so of course but that doesn’t make it any less irritating) and her gut reaction to hang on to Jack at whatever cost just defied logic – but then in relationships so often people do act completely irrationally.  Even when Jack had walked out and moved in with Susie, Hope still thought she needed to ‘think about her options’ for when he came back.  Wilson, Susie’s ex-boyfriend is far more realistic – in moving out and taking up with someone else, Jack has made his choice.  I did kind of sympathise, when deep down you think that someone did care for you it’s hard to imagine that they just don’t any more.  Hope wants Jack to fight for her and he just doesn’t.  He does come back though – after an intervention from both sets of parents.  They have relationship counselling, the whole bit, then split up again twice.  There were points where this just felt like watching a friend going through a car crash break up – you were thinking how could Hope be so stupid but it was still depressingly believable.  Along the way, Susie’s ex-boyfriend Wilson makes his interest in Hope clear and when Hope gives in to his advances after Jack dumps her again, Jack is immediately overcome with jealousy and finally proposes.  

This was the bit that I liked – because finally Hope sees through him and their relationship for what it really is: over.  Completely.  Jack is in love with Susie – and while I’m on the topic, even that is a pile of rubbish, there is no way that it is romantic to start a relationship with someone through an affair.  The Susie character is loathsome, bleating about how hard it is for her to be friends with women while screwing her best friend’s boyfriend – cause and effect, dearie, cause and effect.  Equally, Jack is just a priapic arse who couldn’t make his mind up – why either woman wanted him in the first place was a bit of a mystery although I did think that Manning did make it believable that Hope and Jack had together for so long, they were completely in tune as far as knowing the other person, even though on an emotional level the connection was gone.  Spoilers Susie and Jack end up married but if ever there was a relationship doomed for divorce, that was it.  I don’t think that Jack and Hope had ‘the real deal’ as their parents claimed, but I don’t think that Jack was ever likely to have the wit to find it.

I think that what this book was about really – aside from being about as deep as a puddle – was about the rubbish we put ourselves through trying to make believe a relationship will work when it can’t.  When you love someone who you’ve grown up with, it’s hard to cut them out because they’re part of what’s made you who you are, but sometimes they have nothing good to offer.  It just takes a while for that to sink in.  This book is kind of like a reversed marriage plot: Hope is apparently ‘pre-engaged’ to Jack at the start of the novel because basically she pitched a fit when he failed to propose when she had been expecting him to so he compromised by buying her a ‘pre-engagement’ ring, but ultimately Hope rejects the offered real engagement ring because she knows that being married to Jack cannot make her happy.  She learns to climb ladders for herself, gets a job in Australia and Gets On With Her Life.  Good for Hope, the reader wishes her well.  

So yeah – I liked this book because it took a formula which has essentially been done to death – chick lit/romance genre – and did something interesting with it.  I also thought that they did well in making Hope’s job appear believable, primary teaching is no joke with the workload and it was woven in well with the narrative.  There were moments of Life Truth in there as well – at the end Jack and Hope promise to always be best friends but it is clear that this won’t happen.  In the epilogue, Jack has his new life with his wife Susie and their coming baby and whenever there are moments when Hope expects them to share an inside joke, Jack is oblivious.  The intimacy is gone, the relationship is over.  There’ s no point in pretending that it’s not sad when that kind of thing happens because it is – I’ve had that feeling myself, knowing that there’s only one person in the world who you would possibly want to tell something to but you can’t and that’s that.  But hey ho, life’s too short and I liked that Manning didn’t make the ending bittersweet – Hope is Happy and her life is going well, she is Better Off.

I felt like I wanted to give a positive review to a chick lit book since I reviewed My Best Friend’s Girl as my least favourite book in the world and seriously yes I do still find that book offensive on every possible level but I’m not a book snob, just a bad book snob.  But on a final note, I can’t help but wonder what on earth the 9 uses for ex-boyfriends might be.  Ex-boyfriends are chocolate teapot style useless – except that if someone gave me a chocolate teapot I would at least be grateful for the chocolate.  A friend (actually, the same friend that recommended this book) said that ex-boyfriends wanting to stay friends is like a kidnapper asking if they could stay in touch and without wanting to sound melodramatic … there’s a thread of truth in that.  You can pretend all you want, but if you’re going to move on then in the words of the South Pacific musical number, you Gotta Wash That Man Right Outa Your Hair.

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Nine Uses For An Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning
Published by Random House on February 2nd 2012
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 528
ISBN: 9781448126101

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