“You know when you don’t notice something’s missing until you realise it’s not there?”
Few things are as magical as London at Christmastime. Jess discovers this when she moves to the city in December. The plan is to rent out a room in a Notting Hill house-share from a friend. The surprise is that she finds an instantaneous connection with one of her housemates, Alex. The problem? When Jess returns from her holidays, Alex has already hooked up with someone else: another of their roommates. The next year finds them stumbling around their shared quarters as well as their feelings for one another.
We Met in December. By Rosie Curtis. William Morris. 2019. Paperback.
How did I get the book?
My mom picked up the book before we took a trip to London last holiday season as part of my placement at Lutyens & Rubinstein, finding it a rather suitable read. I asked if I could borrow it. One year later, I found it in my pile (better late than never, right?).
You can purchase the book for yourself here and support independent bookstores!
What did I think?
Jess is a cautious leading lady. “I tend to take the approach that you should hold life with one hand, and keep the other one spare just in case of emergencies,” she says. However, she is looking to break out of this in chasing her dreams, moving to London to work in publishing. “My life has been so beige and boring for months,” she says as she obsessively posts updates from London to Instagram. “It's lovely to have something interesting to put on there.” What prevents Jess’s charm from being nauseating is that she’s also self-aware, acknowledging that expecting her life to play out like the romantic comedies she binge-watches is probably not for the best. “Being a daydreaming romantic doesn't mean the world's going to fall into place just to suit me,” she admits, struggling to pout and fix her hair the way she feels a woman does “who can just have sex with whoever she feels like and then get up the next morning and ask them to pass the cornflakes without feeling even the slightest bit awkward.” Instead, Jess is the kind of woman who admits, “I don't think I have anything in my life that is under my control.” But this anxiety helps the reader connect to Jess. “Recently everywhere I've looked people seem to be loved up and I've felt like a spare part, sitting in cafés watching the world go by and with a vague sense that my life is going by too,” Jess admits, “and if I don't do anything about it, I'm going to wake up one morning and find I'm forty-five, still single, and still wondering what I'm going to be when I grow up.”
Alex is in the same sort of headspace as Jess. He’s uprooted his life, too, quitting his high-paying lawyer job (and subsequently being dumped by his fiancé, Alice) to retrain as a nurse, a decision inspired by his father’s death. Jess becomes one of the few people who understand then why Alex changed his life plans based on his experience in hospitals with his father, which he knows is important. Alex is generally thoughtful and understanding of his emotions, even when Alice re-enters his life, looking for another chance. “The relationship that had seemed so solid had slowly but inexorably begun to show those tiny cracks,” he remembers, “which soon turned into gaping huge chasms.” However, Alex stubbornly resists thinking too much about his emotions when it comes to Jess. Labeling his subconscious a “bugger” as he takes cold showers and punches his pillow, Alex fakes his own kind of control, insisting feeling was not on his to-do list for the year.
Still, readers get to see the connection Jess and Alex undoubtedly share from both of their perspectives. It is the kind that happens when you find a person who somehow manages to understand exactly where you are in life, the kind that makes just grazing your fingers against the hand of that person feel like you’ve experienced an electric charge. Yet, they go on ignoring this feeling, trying to hide their jealousy of the other’s partners. It does nothing to really disguise their feelings, though. “There's something about Alex that makes me feel it's safe to open up,” Jess admits, describing him as “the kind of man that makes you feel like your stomach just fell through the floor,” one who has her “staring at his hands like some sort of weirdo.” The longer the feelings for each other build-up, the more the two come to see that it is challenging to deny them. Jess doesn’t want to “spend the rest of [her] life with someone who is nice enough, but not enough,” she decides, though it takes an additional level of bravery to go after everything she truly wants.
🌟 3/5 — Good
I really appreciated Curtis’s descriptions, particularly when she is talking about Jess’s job in publishing. “Publishing is a lot like being a swan,” Jess discovers. “You look very sleek and posh from the outside, but there's an awful lot of furious paddling going on underneath. And a lot of mud.” This is true, as is her following observation, “Publishing is full of women and gay men as far as I can see, so the chances of meeting someone at work are non-existent.” There are other great moments where Jess’s voice is incredibly astute, such as describing an incredibly posh man’s accent as sounding as though he’s got a mouth full of plums, or the anxious energy of her friend Gen being akin to “a can of Coke that's been shaken up then opened.” One of my favorite lines occurs when Jess is breaking up with her boyfriend on a romantic holiday to Venice: “I realise with absolute, incontrovertible certainty that I can't say yes. Not just because I've known him for about five minutes, but because he brings all his travel documents in a see-through plastic folder.”
The ending, however, paled, and not because of its predictability. That is a given with a romcom. I was instead disappointed with how quickly everything wraps up for Jess, Alex, and their friends. Although to some degree it feels so stereotypically British for two people to declare their love for one another after only doing so much as grazing fingers, it also felt wildly unrealistic. I wanted to see more of Jess and Alex struggling with the transition of their relationship from hidden to realized, to enjoy another point of tension.
Beyond the book.
Curtis has another rom-com set for UK publication in 2022 entitled, Love From New York, however, she also writes under another name: Rachael Lucas. Much of her work under the Rachael Lucas moniker is Young Adult fiction, such as The State of Grace, a story about a teenage girl with Asperger’s that was inspired by her own daughter’s struggle with Autism. These novels have a lot of fans (especially in the UK), and yet Lucas hasn’t done a ton of press. However, I can confirm that she is a fan of Taylor Swift’s Evermore, which in a way is just as important.
See you again soon!