Book Review: If I Loved You Less

Tamsen Parker

Rating: 1 out of 5.

published: 20th September 2018
spoilers? a few


Matchmaking? Check. Surfing? Check. Falling in love? As if. 

Sunny, striking, and satisfied with her life in paradise, Theodosia Sullivan sees no need for marriage. She does, however, relish serving as matchmaker for everyone who crosses her path. As the manager of her family’s surf shop in Hanalei Bay, that includes locals and tourists alike. 

One person she won’t be playing Cupid for is the equally happy bachelorette down the street. Baker Kini ʻŌpūnui has been the owner of Queen’s Sweet Shop since her parents passed away and her younger brother married Theo’s older sister and moved to Oahu. Kini’s ready smile, haupia shortbread, and lilikoi malasadas are staples of Hanalei’s main street. 

However, Theo’s matchmaking machinations and social scheming soon become less charming—even hazardous—to everyone involved. And when she fails to heed Kini’s warnings about her meddling, she may be more successful than she ever intended. Theo has to face the prospect of Kini ending up with someone else, just as she realizes she’s loved Kini all along.

ARC kindly provided by Tamsen Parker

The problem I seem to have with Austen retellings is that I almost go into them with too high expectations, and I’m invariably disappointed. Because, let’s be real, nothing can really reach the same levels as Austen herself – I should probably save myself the disappointment and stop thinking they might. 

That being said, I think this book also suffered a little because Emma happens to be my least favourite Austen and the one I found most boring when I read it (yes, I still liked it, but if I’m ranking the novels, it’s definitely sixth out of six). So, maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised when I didn’t like this as much as I might have. However, I think I might still have rated this two stars instead of only one if I hadn’t got so annoyed by some aspects of it. 

But let me back up a moment, and talk about some things I liked about this book. It’s set in Hawaii and the cast is more racially diverse than the original (not hard to do, obviously, but it’s still something worth noting). I liked that Tamsen Parker decided to shake things up a bit like that. Also, the writing was mostly good – there were a couple of lines where I was just like what, but on the whole, it was very readable. Unfortunately, that’s all offset by a whole part in the middle dealing with Theo’s sexuality that annoyed me so much I had to rate this one star. 

To start with, Theo is only attracted to women. She mentions this a few times, she rejects Brock and tells him she’s only attracted to women, calls him out when he says maybe she’s just not yet met the right man. And yet. She refuses to use the word lesbian. Because she isn’t “fundamentally opposed to the idea of being with a man“. But she’s obviously not attracted to men in the text, so all I’m getting here is that she doesn’t want to call herself a lesbian on the off chance that one day she’ll meet a man she’s attracted to. And then later on, there’s this line: “the squishier label of queer had always felt more comfortable than the more rigid identity of lesbian“. Like once you choose a label for your sexuality, that’s it. There’s no changing. I know the whole “sexuality is fluid” thing is a bit iffy, but. Sexuality can be fluid. Her labelling herself as lesbian now, because she’s only attracted to women, doesn’t mean she’s completely incapable of realising later on that maybe she is attracted to other genders too. 

And it really does feel in the narrative that this is just playing into a kind of “you’re not a lesbian, you just haven’t met the right man” idea. It would be, not fine, but better, if, when she thinks she’s attracted to Austin, the author takes the chance to bring up comphet, and how maybe this attraction is just to do with the fact that she thinks she ought to be attracted to him, and that their fathers used to push it when they were younger (which is briefly mentioned but not framed in terms of comphet). Because it’s obvious she isn’t really attracted to him. It’s clearly comphet. And it would have been really nice to at least attempt a discussion of that in this, when you have this example just sat there waiting for you. It would have made the whole labelling issue I had feel a lot less like “you just haven’t met the right man”. And, ultimately, I might have liked the book quite a bit more if that had been the direction taken. 

But in the end, what I’m left with is yet another Austen retelling that leaves me feeling disappointed.

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