Two romance novels in one month is unusual for me, but I’ve been in a bit of a slump and these only take me a day or two, so it’s a good way for me to jump-start my reading. After enjoying The Kiss Quotient last week, I thought I’d better pick up another romance novel so that it would be ready for me when the mood struck again– and it’s a good thing I did, because here we are. Yesterday I read Sally Thorne’s 2016 release, The Hating Game.
About the book: B & G is a recently-merged publishing company led by two CEOs– Lucy is assists one of them, and her nemesis, Joshua, carries the weight of the other. Every day Lucy and Josh work across from each other in a single shiny office, silently hating each other. Or so it seems. The sudden announcement of a promotion that would make one of them the boss of the other is a game-changer; the tension between them escalates as they each work on their own applications but are also forced to work together in other ongoing office projects, including a team-building retreat. In the midst of heightened emotions, the games continue: the staring game, the HR game, the word-tennis game. But the harder Lucy works to one-up Josh (or at least keep the score even) the less sure she is about the ultimate goal of the hating game, especially when she begins to realize Josh might have a different goal in mind.
“The thing about being in combat with Joshua Templeman? I never truly win. That’s what is so deceptive about it all. The moment I think I’ve won, something happens to remind me I haven’t.”
The Hating Game is narrated entirely from Lucy’s perspective, which fits the plot. Unfortunately, part of the reason this works so well is that Lucy makes so many assumptions. We all make inferences about other people from the evidence we’re given, but so much of this story rests on the reader believing Lucy about the other characters’ personalities and motives when in actuality her guess is as good as anyone’s. The fact that Josh talks about the games they play supports the fact that their dynamic isn’t entirely fabricated in Lucy’s head, but it is a pet peeve of mine when a character (or person, for that matter) decides to speak for someone else. Plot reveals later make sense of this tactic, but I think it’s a good idea to be aware going in that readers are going to get a whole lot of Lucy, and the truth comes later.
Speaking of truth, I must admit there’s a certain level of immaturity to the entire hating game. This has been going on for an entire year already at the start of the book. For two grown people in a professional workplace to thrive off a game this petty is a little ridiculous and unlikely, and it’s hard to believe the love story isn’t as obvious to the characters as it is to the reader. But putting the oddity of the game aside, Thorne does a great job of following the rules she sets in this world, keeping her characters consistent and the story addictive. It’s compulsively readable.
Trying to emulate this sort of romance would probably backfire in real life and shouldn’t be encouraged; the moral of this story should not be interpreted as: “if you want your coworker to fall in love with you, be as evil to them as possible until they can’t stand it anymore.” I was a little creeped out by the weirdly blurry line between murder impulses and lust; there are a couple of times when Lucy imagines killing Josh that seemed kind of hyperbolic and easy to overlook, but there are also a couple of times when she says Josh is looking at her with “serial killer eyes” and she’s actually afraid he’s going to hurt her. That’s not romantic. (Is this a double standard? It bothers me that I’m okay with Lucy contemplating murder just because she’s probably not physically capable of strangling Josh, but it also bothers me that anyone might see her rage as “cute.” I think this dilemma would have been solved if Lucy weren’t so tiny and Josh so large. And of course they’re both beautiful. I’m sure this combination exists in real life, but it seems too easy in fiction.)
But the hate vibes worked for me in a lot of other ways: it was easy to see how Lucy could hate Josh with as frustrated and small as many of his comments and actions made her feel. Whether he intended to make her feel that way or not, there’s a lesson to learn in taking the time to consider how others might interpret your actions, regardless of your motives. The hating game also aligned with my sense of humor pretty well. I have a weird self-deprecating sense of humor that not many people in my real life seem to get, but the hate/love balance in this book produced some nice sarcasm right on my level.
“I’m so turned on I wish I could knock myself unconscious until it passes.”
Though there’s really no diversity or anything brushing on current social issues involved in this story (and again, nothing challenging with body image), there is one small element that I found pretty refreshing: Josh is the shy/insecure party in this couple. Usually it’s the woman in fiction who worries about her appearance and doubts that the man will like her enough, etc. but here Lucy is pretty confident and it’s Josh with the anxiety. It’s nice to see that representation.
” ‘You’re not mad I rescued you? Boys don’t need rescuing.’ ‘This one did.’ “
However, there’s a downside to Josh’s character. Putting aside the wedding debacle, which was stupid of him but fits with his character’s inability to just spit out the truth, Josh is unforgivably awful to Danny; jealousy is understandable, but there are reasonable ways to deal with it, and then there’s the absolutely uncalled-for rudeness that Josh treats Danny with. I can’t stand it when fiction pits women against each other, but this was one of the worst cases of that same trope reversed– and displaying it with men instead of women didn’t make me feel any better about it.
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I read this in 2 sittings and I liked it a lot once I managed to suspend my disbelief. I doubt any romance will ever be a 5-star read for me, because the inevitable predictability with the genre spoils total enjoyment. But there’s definitely something to appreciate for the fact that you get what you came for. (Also, intrigue: there’s an excerpt at the back of my copy for another book by Sally Thorne that was supposed to be “coming in summer 2017” but apparently never made it. She does seem to have another novel coming out in 2019 now, but with a different title. Anyone know if it’s the same book, or what happened to the 2017 novel? Just curious.) I’m definitely willing to try again with Sally Thorne, though I’m hoping her next book will be a bit more realistic.
Have you read any great romances lately?
The Literary Elephant