Redefining Romance Tropes, Miscommunication, and Belonging in The Break-up Clause: An Interview
By Zarah Yesufu, Hannah McWhinnie, Eleanor Bowskill and Victoria Bromley
The Break-up Clause turns the fake dating trope on its head. In this workplace romance, Fia’s New York law firm have accepted their summer associates, and who is Fia paired with? None other than her ex, Benjamin. But here’s the catch: he’s not her ex because they never broke up. What’s worse, he wasn't just her boyfriend, but her husband. After a whirlwind, drunken “I do” in Vegas back in their early twenties, Fia and Benjamin never finalised their divorce. As his boss, she must keep things professional, but the charm she fell for all those years ago hasn’t faded.
The romance genre is often an overcrowded market with competing cartoon covers and catchy hooks with BookTok readers in mind. Not having “the luxury of time” to experiment with ideas for her second novel opposed to her debut, Hargan wanted to come up with a concept that she felt “would ‘work’ within the genre.” Once Hargan came up with “Fia and Benjamin’s predicament,” she realised that it was “a nice reversal of the fake-dating trope” while still incorporating “classic elements” of enemies to lovers which is her “personal favourite trope.”
It was refreshing that Fia was in the senior position and Benjamin was in the subordinate role as the intern. That said, there were many moments which highlighted workplace sexism with a male bias. Hargan wanted to “give a sense of what the reality is behind an environment that can look very glossy from the outside.” But it’s not just law firms: general professional environments where there are still “subtle ways” women are “judged differently to men.” Fia was aware of these inequalities in the office and “the need to tick certain boxes” in order to advance in her career.
There were many moments of miscommunication between Fia and Benjamin which led to their failure to file for divorce. Hargan explained how they are very different characters which limited their communication. “Fia is naturally wary” and “deviated from caution” whereas “Benjamin is naturally quite open and spontaneous.” Hargan suggests the marriage was a turning point where Benjamin questioned “whether he should always be the guy that’s up for anything and bringing the fun.”
While the narrator is candid about the privilege that thinness affords Fia in regards to her job and love life, Hargan says that this candidness goes beyond recognising the “weight bias” in the workplace. It was “to clearly differentiate Fia” from Lizzie, the protagonist in Hargan’s novel Twelve Days in May, who “has a lot of hang-ups about her appearance.” Instead of “re-treading” the ground of a former protagonist, Hargan wanted to “establish that these just weren’t issues Fia was particularly coming up against.” Her problems, as we see within the novel, are “not appearance based.”
Hargan admits that, as a reader, she came to the point of feeling as though she had read lots of stories about “young women living in cities” and having a “pretty bleak” time in them. Whilst this dilemma is sometimes due to factors outside of their control, more often than not, it was a result of their own “relentless bad decision-making” or “past trauma” rearing its ugly head. Instead, Hargan wanted to write about “a character who was dealing with some external problems and some internal doubts, but who was not deeply damaged or self-sabotaging.”
Throughout the novel, the issue of immigration provokes an emotive response from the reader, one familiar to many Irish people. Making a choice to immigrate, as Fia does, can “give rise to so much soul-searching” as our lives progress. For Hargan, those that relocate from their hometowns fall into one of two camps: those that feel much more “at home” in their new surroundings and the latter group, to which Hargan belongs, who see the place they’re from as “an intrinsic part of them, even if they haven’t lived there for many years.” For most immigrants, the decision is not “black and white,” and it was this complexity that Hargan wanted to reflect.
Given that romance novels are commonly written using a first-person narrative, we were intrigued by Hargan’s choice to write The Break-Up Clause through a third person perspective. Hargan said the third person gives her “a bit more freedom as a writer.” When she reads a first-person narrative, she wants everything “to be something a person would actually say” which “can ultimately be limiting.” Third-person also opens up more opportunities to narrate “something the character themselves wouldn’t be conscious of.” For Hargan, a “close third-person narration” is “the best of both worlds” to “dive into a character’s point of view” while still having a lot of narrative freedom.